Monday, May 17, 2010


Saturday morning walking a wood’s path with the dogs, I stopped to visit my favorite wild flower. It was a delicate flower that bloomed for a brief period in late May. Somewhat rare. As I stood looking down, I realized I couldn’t name the plant. Gone. It’s name was gone. I remembered that I’d once described the flower with its tiny veins and pink bulb-like sack as a tiny lung, imagining that this must be what a surgeon sees. But that didn’t help me find its name. Fleetingly, the word Alzheimer’s flashed across my mind. But I knew these things happened, knew that a momentary blip didn’t necessarily mean the onslaught of Alzheimer’s.

It had rained the night before, and pine needles were damp beneath the soles of my sneakers. The scent of pine wafted up. The scent of pine wafted down. As I walked, I thought about naming. I was disturbed, as if some essence of that flower had left me. I searched my mind. Nothing. And so I named what I could name, seedlings on the forest floor, beech, hickory, maple, oak. I named the rose tinged leaves of poison ivy. I named wood fern.

At the end of the path, I called to the dogs and told them to wait. I fed them treats, then gave them the okay to cross the dirt road, and suddenly it was there on my mind. Lady slipper. Of course lady slipper. And I thought of the lady slippers that had lined a path behind the house where we used to live in Holderness, New Hampshire, a path I’d walk out to my small log cabin. That log cabin had been my first study, the place where I’d begun to write. My sons and my husband had dug a trench so the electric company could bring a line to my study. I needed light, power for my electric typewriter. I heated that cabin with a coal stove. I thought of hiking in the White Mountains, the trail to Whiteface, where I’d sat on an rocky ledge, a sea of lady slippers in front of me, pink lady slippers, white lady slippers, yellow lady slippers.

When Adam named the animals, he called them into being, or so I’d thought. My friend, a rabbi, tells me, no. The animals were already there. As were the plants. But Adam didn’t name the plants. My friend, the poet Susan Donnelly, has another take on naming in her poem, “Eve Names the Animals,” a poem I adore. Eve uses words to transform—perhaps what Adam has already named. A lion become sun. Hers is a poem about language. It’s a poem about change—and being open to what we see—or to what we lose. I lost a name, but I saw the lady slipper, saw it transformed into a log cabin, then into three boys and a man digging a trench, and finally into a sea of color on a mountainside.

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