Wachusett Mountain

June 24th, 2007 by desultor

This trip was more about hiking than naturalizing, but I busted out the books during one rest break.

  • Red Elderberry (Sambucus pubens) (honeysuckle family) – Growing all over. Delicious! I only sampled a couple, since my books didn’t really say anything either way about their edibility. But they were awesome in small quantity, and it’s always nice to have more wild nibbles. I could even see these, given how plentiful and tasty they are, being a nice jelly choice.

    Wikipedia has Sambucus in the newfangled moschatel family (adoxaceae), according to modern genetic evidence. It looks like that’s how the viburnums roll these days too. But I have them in the caprifoliaceae here for consistency, since I’ve been giving family names from Newcomb’s; I find an antiquarian charm in learning plants with the old-fashioned taxonomy, and I’m sure I’ll also pick up the new stuff as I go along.

  • Fringed Bindweed (Polygonum cilinode) (buckwheat family) – I hate to deprecate one of God’s creations, but to my eye this was just another charmless polygonaceous bindweed, distinguished mainly by how common it was along the trails. The convolvulaceous bindweeds rock harder.

Middlesex Fells, June 10th

June 24th, 2007 by desultor

Actually most of the cool stuff I saw was at the big park which runs along the North bank of the Mystic. I didn’t write anything down and feel sure that I’ve forgotten some interesting things, but here’s what I remember:

  • Garden Lupine (Lupinus polyphyllus) (pea family) – I’ve seen this streaking past when I’ve driven on the pike, but the Mystic-side park was the first chance I had to sit down and look at it. It was between a paved path and some riverbank type stuff; phragmites, I think.
  • Indian Cucumber Root (Medeola virginiana) (lily family) – In the northern part of the Fells, probably along the Crystal Springs trail. Nifty flowers, vaguely holisticly reminiscent of bittersweet nightshade or something. I didn’t want to look at the root, since there were only a few and I don’t much like pulling anything up anyways.
  • Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea) (parsley family) – These were growing in a lovely meadow, deserving of many hours’ further exploration, in the Mystic-side park.


  • Fragrant Sumac (Rhus aromatica) (cashew family) – This stuff smelled awesome. It was growing on a path-edge at the Mystic park, next to some staghorn sumac. I got a picture of them together to blow my own mind.


May 31st, 2007 by desultor

paulinchen LOL

Eagle Island, May 20th

May 24th, 2007 by desultor

Back to the island for a day. One year anniversary of a previous visit, as it happens.

I didn’t get to the rich area over by Chimney Bluffs, where I’d seen the trilliums, solomon’s seal and jack-in-the-pulpit. The island doesn’t seem to have this sort of thing, as far as I’ve seen.

Very, very prevalent are the thyme-leaved speedwell and ground ivy. Around the shore, purple dead-nettle is common. I also was able to definitely identify a smooth yellow violet. Unless I’ve forgotten something, the only new plant I saw was some sort of pussytoes. I think that it was Antennaria plantaginifolia, also known as “Woman’s Tobacco”.

White-throated Sparrow?

May 6th, 2007 by desultor

Among the usual Somerville and Cambridge birds I’ve been hearing an occasional song which sounds like a white-throated sparrow’s “Poor Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody”. However, it’s been coming across as thin and reedy compared with the recordings I have, and lacking syllables in Peabody, such that it sounds like “Poor Sam Peee Peee Peee”.

I didn’t really think that it was likely a white-throated sparrow, since I hadn’t read of them being city birds at all. But today, I saw a sparrow in the back yard which definitely wasn’t a house sparrow. It had three white stripes on its head, and a distinctly white throat. It was bigger than a house sparrow. I didn’t see the yellow eyebrows that white-throated sparrows should have, but maybe I just wasn’t looking closely enough…

Middlesex Fells

May 6th, 2007 by desultor

Yesterday I went out to the Fells for the first time this year.

  • Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria) (buttercup family) – Hooray! I’ve been on the lookout for this character for a couple of years now, since noticing that celandine is one of the most popular weeds in the Boston area. It was the first thing I saw at the parking lot. Lesser celandine isn’t even in the same family as celandine, which is in the poppy family, nor does it look remotely alike apart from having yellow petals. The shiny petals are kind of a tell that it’s buttercuppy, but I’m so used to buttercups having five petals that it wouldn’t have occurred to me to group this with Ranunculus. Wikipedia has an anecdote, involving Wordworth’s gravestone, of mistaken identity with these two.
  • Downy Juneberry (Amelanchier arborea) (rose family) – This is the shadbush. I guess if I were old-time enough I’d reckon the shad to be spawning about now. The leaves are really quite spectacularly downy. I think last year I probably must have seen this, but I wasn’t as turned on to shrubs then, and I’d have called it some crazy cherry.
  • Some Crazy Cherries (Prunus sp.) (rose family) – The main cherry in the Fells is the fire cherry. But I saw two others. One type had large pink flowers – my best guess is that they were sour cherry, escaped from some farm in olden times. Another had white flowers like the fire cherry, but about half the size, and the bark of the twigs was gray rather than reddish. This is a tough time for identifying shrubs; my Newcomb’s guide doesn’t get into much detail with them, and my beloved Peterson’s guide to trees and shrubs doesn’t even mention flowers. The latter keys on vegetative characteristics, but since the leaves are so small and wonky now, and the buds are broken open, I pretty much can’t use it for another couple of weeks.
  • Sessile-Leaved Bellwort (Uvularia sessifolia) (lily family) – Also, strangely, known as wild oats. This was growing in amongst some of the Canada mayflower which carpets the forest pretty much floor throughout the Fells. An unassuming flower, though the foliage is lustrous and beautiful when you look at it.

I also took special note of the following, which I saw last year around this time.

  • Small-Flowered Crowfoot (Ranunculus abortivus) (buttercup family) – I saw this all over the muddy pathsides on Eagle Island last spring. In the fells, it was growing in drier conditions, among common violets and garlic mustard. They were underneath an elm with distinctly slippery inner bark, and new leaves which were downy-hairy above and beneath. Peterson’s tree and shrub guide fails me here too, since it expects full-grown leaves, which it says are sandpapery above. But I think it was probably a slippery elm.
  • Ovate-Leaved Violet (Viola fimbriatula) (violet family) – I just like this. It’s got a nice, deep purple to it. There was a small section of path which was carpeted with them on either side. Latin fimbriae are fibers, shreds, fringe, so I guess the species name is mean to refer to the downiness of the leaves?

I also heard a brown thrasher and goldfinches (with whom I’m becoming quite taken), and saw my first red-winged blackbird of the season.

Wherein Desultor Blogs IM

April 12th, 2007 by desultor

By popular request:

people are so stupid
apparently there’s some controversy
because not everything in david sedaris oeuvre is strictly true
which, duh
he’s not, like, a reporter
Jon Carroll thinks humorists require “latitude” to make things funny, a notion I find bogus. I find stories that are absolutely true—like the time one of my neighbors, dressed up to party on Saturday night, fell into a 55-gallon drum filled with human excrement and urine—the funniest.
i think that story would be funnier
if the lead character was writing an article about why all humor should be strictly true
and his chair tipped over into that bucket
but i guess that didn’t really happen

Spring has sprung

April 9th, 2007 by desultor

And as the sap riseth in the humble vegetables, so riseth it in Desultor. Mutatis mutandis.

Crocuses have been around for a couple of weeks. Towards the beginning of last week I saw my first daffodils. Towards the end, those damned blue flowers which I still can’t identify. I speak in this post of flowers, not merely foliage.

And now this week, the Kendall railroad weedpatch has blooms: woodsorrel (surprisingly early to me), some sort of chickweed (probably “common” but I was rushed and didn’t look closely), some crazy whiteflowered mustard with purpley foliage (flowers are about the size of shepherd’s purse; I think the foliage is pretty much entire), and storksbill!

HOORAY! For Desultor, it’s out of the gardens and into the sidewalk cracks! The weedpatches! The railroad tracks! The tickpatch (mater memoriae)! The swamps!

Complicated Change

August 4th, 2006 by desultor

I got the same thing at Donut Hill this morning as most. It comes to $3.51, so I took a penny from the Jimmy Fund box and gave the cashier $5.01. She said my change was one-fifty and handed me $5.50. I took it, then gave back the five and said, one-fity, right? At the same time, I pocketed one of the quarters I got back and dropped the other in the Jimmy Fund box. The cashier then gave me back a one and a five. I took the one, leaving her with the five in her hand. This she took back and, flustered, tried to hand me another one.

My Pet Peeve

July 27th, 2006 by desultor

I hate it when credit card forms on web sites don’t accept spaces between the groups of digits. They are obviously valid characters, since they appear on the card itself.