Saturday, April 27, 2013

Reactions to Discovery

New to me this spring is the Thyme-leaved Speedwell, Veronica serpyllifolia.  At first glance, it reminded me of American Brooklime, Veronica americana, which I learned for the first time last spring. The Brooklime is much bigger, so it wasn't a surprise that I should find it in the damp, shady areas at roadsides.  My first sight of it occurred on the road to Oakland Camp in a place where a spring comes to the surface.  The Speedwell, which I first spotted last week, is much smaller and was growing in well-watered lawns at the college.  I could have easily overlooked it.  Once I spotted it and identified it, I started seeing it in lots of other places, including my own front lawn.  I've been looking at that lawn for six years, but never spotted Speedwell before!  So, my first reaction to such a discovery is excitement.  Probably similar to adding a check mark to one of those life lists in bird books.  The difference, with me at least, is the check mark does not bring closure.  It marks a beginning.  First, curiosity about what it is, then the challenge of getting good photos with minimal camera equipment and limited skill.  Once I identify a new plant or animal I want to learn more about its natural history.  Is it a native to this area or not?  What family is it in?  Actually, I'm often able to identify the family on first sight, and that helps me get to the species more quickly than I could otherwise.  If it has an interesting common or scientific name I usually try to track down the origins of such and what attitudes the names might reveal about the time and culture in which it was named, or what it might reveal about the nature of the languages spoken where it is found.  I have an unquenchable curiosity.  It may have "killed the cat," but it hasn't killed me yet.  In fact it has made life richer.
The first Pineapple Weeds of the season are popping up in sunny areas at roadsides in the area.  This is a composite, in the family formerly known as Compositae but now known as Asteraceae.  The story of that name change appears a few times in this blog's older posts, especially when I'm talking about Dandelions, which I'm about to do again soon.  The technical name of the Pineapple Weed, known by some as Chamomile, is a mouthful.  It's Matricaria matricarioides.  Pinch one of those flower heads and you'll probably enjoy the fragrance.  It might be power of suggestion from the name, but to me it smells like pineapple.  The name could just as easily have come from the fact the flower head vaguely resembles a pineapple.
In the case of Lupines which are a commonplace in these parts, the excitement of new discovery is not strong, but there is some excitement at finding the first ones to bloom in a given season.  These have been blooming in the lower Feather River Canyon for a couple of months, but are just starting to bloom at 3,000 feet and above.  I knew they were coming, so my excitement has more to do with trying to find interesting lighting in order to get a better photo than any of my previous ones.  From time to time, when I think I've accomplished that, I delete some of the older photos from my archive.  For many subjects, I really love back lighting because it reminds me of getting up with the sun, both at home and while camping.  At home, I'm in the habit of getting up before sunrise because I enjoy experiencing the sunrise.  Early morning photography is just one of the fringe benefits.  Perhaps another is feeling smug about feeling very good at a time when many other folks are struggling with the idea of getting up.

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