Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ginkgo Nuts and Spider Eggs and the Meaning of Life....part one

If you were to mouse over the files in the basement cubby hole in  my head, you would find a file created sometime halfway through the last century labeled, "The Meaning of Life".  The file is crammed with nervous little question marks making squeaky inquisitive noises like this: why? how come? who said? where? when? whatwhatwhat? whywhywhy? 

The whywhywhy can sometimes reach such a shrill decibel level that my brain pops up a window informing me that an error has been detected, and it is necessary to end the session now and that all unsaved information will be lost.  This is a relief actually.

The Meaning of Life file is awfully large and interesting because I stash some information in it everyday.  I never add any answers to the question of the Meaning of Life-I still don't have any-but the details are endlessly fascinating to me.  If I'm asked to stand in line, or take a number and sit down, or the traffic is slow, I open up the Meaning of Life file and worry it dog and bone style.  (Don't write to tell me that there are nice groups and medication for this neurosis; I've seen that option in the file and know all about it already, thank you.)

The ginkgo nuts and the spider eggs are in the file and here is how that came about:

One day last September, I was helping someone to decide on the perfect tree to memorialize a pet that had just gone back to the Home Planet.  This is delicate and time consuming because we must evaluate every possible tree species for grieving metaphors and its ability to someday crack the house foundation  or otherwise threaten the insurance status of the property.  Utility lines, the neighbor's approval and urban forestry regulations must all be considered.  (It's probably simpler to send Poor Fluffy's ashes on a trip to the sea, but never mind.)  A third person, shadowing our progress through the tree nursery, was following the discussion closely although I didn't register that at the time.

After reviewing a couple dozen possible trees and seeing  nothing to commemorate Poor Fluffy's eternal rest properly, we came to the Ginkgo tree.  I leave this one for last because it's not a tree for everyone.  (Plus, it's my favorite, and I hate to part with them)  The Ginkgo is slow growing-in Northern Illinois-and is often awkwardly shaped when young.  Its slow growth means that even small trees are going to be pricey.  (Many people in the speedy New Millennium prefer a Bradford Pear type tree which will have matured and toppled over in a summer thundershower onto to your pick-up truck before a Ginkgo even gets its groove on.)

A big concern about Ginkgo trees is their fruit which has an offensive reputation with some people.  (They describe it as cat uriney)  Ginkgos used to come in sexes-one of each-and you don't know which tree is which for ten to fifteen years when the females finally bear fruit.  By that time, you've fallen in love with the tree, the kids have hung a rope swing in it, the cardinals have registered to vote at your address, and you are fully capable of ignoring the neighbors who can't stand the stink.  Most neighborhoods have at least one grumpy resident who can't see the forest for the Ginkgo tree and don't care a bit about the nobler tree issues. 

But, I explained to Poor Fluffy's bereaved family, those old sexy Ginkgos are long gone; all the trees available for sale now are sterile male cultivars, meaning no fruit ever.  In fact, I am likely to go on if not stopped, we may lose the ginkgo again in this country because we are losing the genetic diversity necessary to keep a species healthy....sort of like only mating Poor Fluffy to her brother.  (Actually, I wouldn't say that last bit to Fluffy's family-only to you Dear Reader.)  Someone really should plant a few Ginkgo seeds to keep the gene pool going. 

The Third Party is standing close, listening.

With the fear of stinky fruit removed, it turns out that the Ginkgo is just the thing as Poor Fluffy's tail had a hinky kink in it just like that branch there.  So the Ginkgo goes home to stand symbolically over Poor Fluffy's memory, and I turn my attention to the Third Party. 

"Ginkgo's a messy damn tree" he says. 
"Life is messy," I say.  And the Third Party goes away.

But a couple of hours later, the Third Party comes back, tosses a rumpled plastic bag at me and says, "Here you go! Ginkgo fruit from the tree by my office.  Hate that tree. Don't know why I haven't cut it down."
Later, I track down the office and the tree, which had been planted thirty years ago about three feet away from the building, is now engaged in a deadly struggle with brick, asphalt and guttering.  The tree is doomed of course; the chainsaw will get it sooner or later, and its revenge will be the increased air conditioning costs in the building once that glorious, sheltering canopy is gone and in a little less birdsong. A fruiting Ginkgo tree is a rich ecosystem; the loss of even one diminishes all.

Still!  I have the nuts.  I am holding the future in my hands, and it does smell a little bit. Squishy, too.  A smelly, squishy future.  Not really like a cat box though...more...cheesey.  This is an interesting day, I think, and it's not 2 in the afternoon yet.....

next....spider eggs to complement the ginkgo nuts.


  1. Oh, joy - the blog! Yippee! I am now an official subscriber and follower.

    Waiting to hear more about the spider eggs.

    BTW - the lovelies I found in my fields - they were the covergirls for the Lake County Forest Preserve Animal Architects exhibit.

  2. Animal Architects....I like that phrase. Have you got photos? That would be a great post to a Master Naturalist's fan page on Facebook. I bet that Lake County has a Master Naturalist program. (I just finished the one in Winnebago County and we finally have a fanpage)


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