Skunk cabbage, Goose Pond, Keene, NH

Today’s Photo Friday theme is “Natural.” This clump of false hellebore (not skunk cabbage as I originally blogged) is sprouting along a creek leading into Goose Pond here in Keene. The dog and I went walking at Goose Pond yesterday–it’s only Natural that we’d go walking there or somewhere green since I had the day off from teaching–and when I saw clumps of green leaves sprouting along that creek, it was only Natural that I’d walk upstream for a closer look. Several days ago, you see, I’d responded to a comment left by Hank from if you see kay regarding a freshly sprouted clump of leaves I’d blogged. In that response, I’d mentioned that those leaves looked a little bit like skunk cabbage, so I must have had skunk cabbage on the brain when I saw these large, parallel-veined leaves. Skunk cabbages look a little bit like false hellebore this time of year, after they’ve finished flowering and have erupted into large green leaves, but that other plant looks nothing like either. So those other leaves I saw will remain a mystery until they get bigger, send up flowers, or do something else that would help me identify them.

Such mysteries, actually, are perfectly Natural. Even experienced botanists occasionally see plants they’re not familiar with, odd specimens that don’t quite match what the books say a particular species is “supposed to” look like. Ornithologists have it even worse than botanists since they are forced to identify creatures on the wing. For this reason, birders have various acronyms they use to describe their favored variety of Unidentified Flying Objects: LBJ, or “Little Brown Job,” describes any sort of nondescript, unidentifiable brown bird (sparrow, wren, autumn warbler) whereas BVD refers not to a brand of men’s underwear but to any bird whose elusiveness results in a “Better View Desired.” (Actually, “better view desired” might perfectly describe many ladies’ impression of male underwear…and that, Gentle Reader, is a trashy comment included herein for the express delectation of Kathleen from unsettled, who commented last night over margaritas that I don’t say enough trashy things in my blog. Critique duly noted: I’m much more trashy in person.)

Mystery tree, Keene State College, Keene, NH

While I’m on the subject of Natural mysteries, it’s only Natural that I remark that last summer’s notable mystery trees are now in bloom, and I still don’t know what they are. I know they’re in the rose family, related to flowering trees such as cherries and crabapples, but I’m no closer to having a definitive genus and species. Although in this photo, taken on the campus of Keene State College, the flowers look like cherry blossoms, last summer’s fruits were entirely un-cherry-like: small, dense, and multi-seeded, they looked like tiny greenish-brown crabapples. I’ve decided that these trees must be crabapples after all, I just don’t know what kind. And I guess I’ll settle for “some kind of crabapple” until I break down and visit the science department on campus and inquire after this tree, which is labeled with a number for easy reference. “What kind of tree is Number 174?” After I’ve been answered with a name, after this tree goes from Midsized Leafy Job to something definitely identified, the mystery will be ruined and with it part of this tree’s allure.

There’s something intriguing about mysteries. Keene State has earned a local reputation for mystery, actually, given the fact that one of its dormitories is reputed to be haunted. The fact that TV crews from the Travel Channel came all the way to Keene this week to investigate the dusty attic of Huntress Hall says something for our desire for mystery. Ultimately, the phrase “Better View Desired” might be my own personal mantra: if those letters didn’t have a better-known, trashier connotation, I’d ask that BVD be engraved on my tombstone, wherever and whenever there be a need for that. At the end of the day, a better view is always desired, another piece of the puzzle unveiled while the greater Mystery lies eternally unknown and alluring. Who wouldn’t, after all, reach the end of a life spent looking only to utter upon death’s-door, “I would have liked to have seen more”? It’s only Natural.

    Thanks to the Sylph for corrected my botanic faux-pas: what I thought was skunk cabbage is actually false hellebore, an extremely poisonous plant. Thank goodness for keen-eyed blog readers!