Monthly Archives: July 2010

Summer Casualties: Milkweed and the Mother Vine

This is a story about perspective.

I’ve lost a swamp milkweed. I clearly did not swamp it sufficiently during the latest record heat wave here in Philadelphia. I planted it in the spring of 2009, and it thrived last year, fooling me into thinking it was established and did not need babying. Whoops. I’m a little sad about the loss. I paid $15 for that guy and I am cheap, so that hurts. Plus, I’ve got a bit of a hole in my back yard border now – about 1 foot around, and four feet tall.

So, by all means, feel sorry for me. But did anyone else hear the report on NPR the other day about the mother vine? This grape vine lives on Roanoke Island in the outer banks of North Carolina and is thought to be over 400 years old. Experts aren’t sure whether it was planted by the first English colonists in the 1500s or by the Croatans who lived there when the English arrived. But either way, it’s way old. John Wilson spoke with Melissa Block on All Things Considered (listen here) and described its bulk. It covers a quarter of an acre. Two adults can barely touch hands when they reach around the trunk. Remember we’re talking grape vine here, not oak tree.

Not only it this vine massive, it is apparently badly behaved. One tendril, it seems, was out of order and had started working its way up a power pole. A contractor employed by Dominion power had been charged with clearing all vegetation off the power poles and lines and sprayed that little sucker with weed killer. Systemic weed killer. Mr. Wilson’s father, who tends the vine, came out one morning in May to find his beloved vine browning at the tips. He cut off the dead sections. The next morning presented more dead sections, and the next morning, and the next morning. As if the dead were growing backward from the tips toward the roots. Just what systemic weed killer is designed to do. Enter through the foliage, poison the roots, and thus kill the plant.

Oh mercy. I would have cried. I’m whining over a 1 foot hole left by a one year old plant that cost me $15. Imagine a quarter acre hole. Left by a plant that may have survived when the Lost Colony did not.

The power company feels badly. They’ve apologized and hired numerous experts are implementing a fertilizing / watering / pruning regimen. Fortunately, it seems to be working. The Wilsons are optimistic that the mother vine will survive, even if this year’s grapes will be a loss. (More info here from WSOC Tv)

Perspective is essential. I will try to remember the mother vine when I feel like whining. Maybe that hole in the back garden is an opportunity. An opportunity that will require only one plant to fill, not a quarter acre’s worth.

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Opposites attract. Or do they?

In 1989, when my husband and I met , we assumed that we came from different worlds. He grew up in the north, raised by a Jewish mom from the Bronx. I grew up in the south, raised by an Episcopal mom from New Mexico. His family drove into Manhattan to go to Broadway shows. My family drove to southern Virginia to eat my grandmother’s fried apples and bacon and brown sugar pie.

My new beau poked fun at my occasional southern accent. I don’t know – I still think “y’all” is an immensely functional word. It conveys the plural, it’s friendly, and I much prefer it to the “yous” (as in yous guys) heard around Philly every once in a while. But “y’all” amused him. He poked fun at my hometown, the “Capitol of the Confederacy.” True, there is a boulevard in Richmond, Virginia dotted with life sized monuments of confederate generals who face north if they died in battle and face south if they came home from the war. I can see now how the monuments might seem odd to the outsider, not to mention that when I just said “the war,” I meant the Civil War. But it all seemed pretty normal to me. I also recall a joke or two about me marrying my cousin. I’m from Virginia, I would remind him, not West Virginia. (All you Mountaineers out there, please forgive me. I was young.)

All this lead me to believe that two opposites had attracted.

Now I must mention the odd fact that his dad was born and raised in West Virginia. But he had long since become a New Yorker in spirit and those mountains are really tall and as you may have inferred from the snooty comment above, I considered West Virginia about as foreign as New York City. So nothing there disabused the notion that we were from different worlds.

Until this weekend. We, now 17 years married, went to visit his parents at their cottage in the Pocono mountains. This lovely home serves to catch breezes off the lake, to host family reunions and as a repository for family heirlooms. Imagine my shock when I climbed the stairs to our bedroom and found this blanket chest in the hallway:

Why shocked? Well, because I just inherited this blanket chest:

I don’t know anything about antiques. But is it a stretch to think that these two pieces might have been manufactured by the same carpenter? Perhaps bought at the same furniture store? At least in the same area of the country. Certainly at the same time. Turns out that his blanket chest had been his great grandmother’s just as mine had been my great grandmother’s. Turns out that his great grandmother lived in Chatham, Virginia until she moved to West Virginia to be married. My great grandmother lived in Martinsville, Virginia. Turns out that his great grandmother was a Goode, and my grandmother’s best friend was a Goode. That great distance I had imagined between our two families had just shrunk dramatically. No longer were we talking New Mexico to the Bronx. We weren’t even talking Virginia to Pennsylvania. We were talking 25 miles of country road in Southwestern Virginia. How many generations would we have to go back until that 25 miles shrunk even further??

In 1989, when I brought my husband (then boyfriend) home to Richmond to meet my friends and family for the first time, I considered myself a bit of a rebel. I was proposing to marry a yankee. Turns out I might just have gone and married my cousin.

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