Today was cool and no rain although our ramble on the Purple and Orange Trails was muddy. Before starting off, Dale read some passages about Sourwood from A Natural History of Trees of Eastern and Central North America by Donald Culross Peattie; the full text follows for your enjoyment:
The glittering leaves of the Sourwood, wondrously fresh-looking and spirited, have completed their growth long before the flowers appear, yet so handsome are the great bouquets of bloom at the ends of the branches that they are not put out of countenance by the splendid foliage but, looking like hundreds of little lilies-of-the-valley, they sway and dance in the warm, friendly wind of late June and early July. In case you have not looked up and seen them, you may soon be made aware of them by the roar of the bees gone nectar-mad at their lips.When autumn comes, the foliage turns a gorgeous scarlet or orange or crimson, double welcome because the Sourwood in general grows outside the range of the Sugar Maple and the Aspen, and takes their place in the South. Then, especially in the southern Appalachians where Sourwood grows 50 and 60 feet tall, is the season to set out afoot, or on horseback, or in your car, to buy sourwood honey from your country neighbors. Some of them put out little signs along the roadside, but all you have to do is watch for a row of “bee gums” not far from the farmer’s house. For if the southern farmer has hives at all, he has Sourwood honey for sale. Fortunately the blooming period of the Sourwood is just after the fading of the Mountain laurel and Rhododendron whose honeys are poisonous. Their honey the bee-keeper throws away, but he is very careful to store his sourwood honey, for it is the finest, in the opinion of many epicures, in the southeastern states and is not surpassed even by the most tangy sage honey of California.Sourwood honey is medium-light in color, of heavy body, and slow to granulate. An average flow of as high as 75 pounds per colony from Sourwood has been recorded. Usually the local demand takes the entire crop at prices above the open market, so that Sourwood is a honey like some of the choicest wines of the vineyards of Europe – that is, it practically does not appear upon the market at all and can be had only by those epicures who will journey far to partake of it. One buys Sourwood honey as one buys any such rare product from its producers – not in a commercial spirit, paying for it and carrying away the wares – but with all the due ceremony observed between a collector and a creative artist. You ride up to the cabin door; a woman appears at the barking of the hounds, with children peeping out from behind her skirts, and mountain courtesy requires that you begin, not by stating your business but by telling where you come from. Then you assure her that she has a “right pretty place”; you praise her portulacas, her turkeys, and so, across the landscape, you arrive at her bee gums. Then you ask if she likes Sourwood honey as much as you do. You tell her that you would go far to obtain a little if only you could find somebody who would give up a few pounds of it. When the honey is produced, as it certainly will be, you accept it before asking the price. This will be shyly stated. You may safely pay it for your haggling was all done, by indirection, in your previous parley. And you are paying no more than a fico for nectar and ambrosia.The very hard wood scarcely enters into the lumber business but is cut locally by farmers for the handles of tools. Once on a time in the days of home medicine, the leaves were brewed as a tonic, and they still, with their pleasant acid taste, quench the thirst of the hot, perspiring mountain climber.
Then Carol read from Nature's Chaos by Eliot Porter and James Gleick, p. 47:
Sometimes people try to create miniature ecosystems, mimicking on a smaller scale what the earth has created on a grand one. One experiment in the American Southwest has brought thousands of species together in a domed world. Simultaneously, the national park system is learning a hard lesson. To support a single large mammal, a cougar or grizzly bear, nature requires hundreds of square miles of an intricate mesh of smaller species. To support a whole, thriving population of such animals, the better part of a continent may be necessary. Even the great national parks, it now seems, cannot sustain them. The populations are dwindling and vanishing. A stripped-down ecology may be no more plausible than a poet with a brain of a mere million bits. Our imaginations may have been beggared by the monumental built-up hierarchies required to create the apparently simple manifestation of one herd of buffalo, one stand of dogwood.
As we went by the International Bridge in the International Garden some found a water snake. Others of us missed it. We all saw the beautiful Lotus blossoms.