Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Nothing Vulgar Here!

 If I needed to drive somewhere, I'd consider my self 'snowed in.'  We've gotten around 6" of new snow so far this Christmas day, compared to none at this time last year.  In fact, on this date last year I blogged about finding an active caterpillar in my firewood pile and hearing Pacific Chorus Frogs croaking, despite the very cold weather.  Today, I've stayed indoors, cooking, reading, and eating.  I do plan to take a walk in a few minutes to see what a snowed-in town looks like, and maybe hear some birds.
While cooking our traditional noon-time Christmas feast, I was taken by the beautiful bunch of Chard my wife bought at the natural foods co-op.  The 'Christmas colors' were impressive, so I got out the camera before continuing with my chopping.
 I seldom write about cultivated plants or domesticated animals, but when I do, I get curious about their wild origins.  So, after taking these photos, I decided to do a little Internet research on the origin of chard.  Luckily, no power outages so far today.
I discovered that the Swiss Chard is a variety of the same species as Beets, Beta vulgaris.  I fail to see anything vulgar about this plant.  It is not only beautiful to look at, but is highly nutritious and has many domesticated varieties.  I wonder if it got dubbed 'vulgar' because its ancestors, the beets, grew underground.  Maybe all the root crops were considered vulgar due to their close association with
dirt.  I need to do more research on this.  I was then reminded that during an environmental training I did some years ago at UC Davis, we were admonished to quit using the word dirt. It implies 'dirty,' and 'undesirable.'  Instead, we were to think of 'soil,' a living community on which all living things are ultimately dependent.  I urge you to click on any of these photos in order to get a closer look at the vein patterns in the leaves.  The red is due to the fact that more iron is stored there than in other parts of the plant.  I love finding the Christmas colors in nature.  Better than in plastic ornaments.
For a snowy-day activity, I recommend researching some item you had for dinner.  I started with Chard, then got led to Beta vulgaris and Beets.  Then to Spinach, bete noire, all sorts of nutrition web sites, and interesting lore associated with all sorts of vegetables.  It was hard to stop, but I really do want to take a walk in the snow.
I'm now having memories of what I did on snowy Christmases when I was a kid. Besides playing with the new toys, especially ones that require assembly like Erector Sets and electric trains, I loved to look up things in our huge Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.  It was hard to look up just one word and stop.  At an early age, I developed the habit of seeing that everything is connected to everything else, and my siblings and I spent hours chasing words and origins through our dictionary.  It still worked when the power went out, unlike today's internet.


  1. Chard is a great green! It cooks up quickly and blends well with mushrooms. I like your musings on the word 'vulgar'. The word has negative connotations now, but when I see it in a Latin name, I think it simply means 'common.'

    Merry Christmas from one loyal reader and infrequent commenter!

  2. You're right, but more often than not common carried the connotation 'commoner' and suggested 'of lesser value' than, say, aristocrat. It's difficult to get accurate word histories because the uncommon people write them.
    Thanks for your feedback. I love this sort of exploring, and like any other exploring, it carries risks. Namely, the risk of being wrong