Last month, at the end of a quick visit with my sister, we snuck in a morning walk at a local nature preserve. It was a bitterly cold morning and even bundled up and moving briskly, we felt the chill. I stopped once in a while to take photographs then, moaning about the pain in my freezing fingers, hurried to catch up with the others. It was a beautiful, sparkly day, but not a day to linger in any one spot.
The preserve hugs the shores of Long Island Sound and trails meander through a variety of landscapes: open fields, wooded areas, and shoreline. I imagine it’s a beautiful place to visit repeatedly and enjoy the changes of the seasons. On our visit I was fascinated by the tall feathery grasses. I took picture after picture, trying to capture the play of light and the varying textures.
Then, walking over a small bridge on a woodland path, we stumbled upon these dramatic seed pods, which none of us could identify. I was captivated by their spiky shells and the long shadows. What sort of tree or plant emerges from these other-worldly pods?
We returned from our trip and I put these unidentified seed pods out of mind. (I know…this demonstrates a lamentable lack of curiosity.) But then this weekend, while avoiding my To Do list, I read a post by a blogger I follow. She shared a picture of similar pods in the snow along with an accompanying poem. I hoped she would be able to solve the mystery of the pods’ identity.
Alas, that wasn’t the case. Her reply, however, sparked this thought: “To google or not to google” which lead to a quick reread of Hamlet’s soliloquy, which lead to this:
To google or not to google, that is the question
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to allow
the lingering question and wonder of the unknown
or to take arms against ignorance
and tapping keys, arrive at certainty
Ah, certainty, that brave and boldly struts
its knowledge upon the boards for all to see
yet snuffs out richest curiosity
To google or not to google, that is the question…
M. Hogan (c) 2018
Emerging from that rabbit hole, I considered my next weekend activity. Perhaps I should write a poem about the pods, I thought. (Especially when the alternatives look like paying bills, cleaning, school work, or changing the headlight in my Subaru.) So, I played around a bit, debating how best to proceed. Recently, when contemplating writing a poem about an image, I’ve begun to jot down every word that comes to mind and then seek inspiration from within that word pool. The pool for these pods included: gamble, dice, seed pods, alien, cast, mystery, capsules, prickly spikes, shadows, nascent, and casing.
Bold pod voyagers,
what nascent life form lingers
within your prickly carapace?
Have you lost this round
of the seasonal gamble?
M. Hogan (c) 2018
After writing the above, I finally gave in to the allure of google and looked up the pods. It didn’t take long to identify them. Drum roll please….. They are… sweet gum tree seed pods! Since they apparently come from one of the most common hardwoods in the SE US, many of you might already have recognized them. They were new to me though, so, of course, I then dove headfirst down that rabbit hole and emerged a while later, having learned a bit more about sweet gum trees–their resin, bark, nicknames, etc. I won’t share all of it here, but you might be interested to learn that these seed pods each contain 40-60 capsules and each capsule contains 1-2 seeds. Now that’s a pretty hefty seed bomb!
Thinking back over the wandering trajectory of this post, I realize that while most of it took place in a day, the initial sparks for it occurred almost a month ago. Writing’s funny like that. I suppose the ideas were percolating all this time. Percolating… Now that’s a great word! Maybe I can write a poem about that…