by Fidel Anderson

I tend to think of the world in colors. 

While some people think in words, or numbers, or letters, I organize my life via color schemes. As a film major, every story has an associated palette that helps me visualize the scene: seedy noir narratives are neon colors with a smudge of black, an adventure tale through the swamplands are deep sunset tones, and an arthouse story is full of pastels. 

When it comes to my childhood, though, I associate it with only one color: a deep, rich fuchsia. For my Film 2 class, I made a film entitled “raspberry valley,” in which a girl enters a dream world as she listens to an old-timey educational video about growing up. In this alternate universe, the girl becomes a kid again, playing with stickers, eating gummy bunnies, and plucking raspberries off the tips of her fingers. She’s immersed in her childhood even though she should be growing up. My roommate, who stars in the short, asked me a simple question after agreeing to be in my project: 

“Why raspberries?” 

I didn’t quite know what to say. Admittedly, it was the image of someone eating those dark red-pink raspberries off their fingers that sparked the idea for the film, but I couldn’t explain exactly why I imagined that particular fruit. 

“Uh…” I started to answer, “because they’re one of the cheapest to buy from the store and they’re colorful?” 

The answer was sufficient for her, but it nagged at me. Why did I choose raspberries over every other available fruit? 

When I was younger I moved houses a lot, and I tend to correlate certain times of my life with the various streets I’ve lived on. When I think of raspberries, I think of Main Entrance Drive. On this quiet, residential street, we had a long driveway that led to a door that went into our basement. Next to this door was the smallest, weakest, most pathetic raspberry bush you could imagine. It would only ever grow two or three misshapen berries at a time, but I would pluck one off as soon as I got home from school. No matter what it looked like to anyone else, I loved that sad little raspberry bush.

"Next to this door was the smallest, weakest, most pathetic raspberry bush you could imagine. It would only ever grow two or three misshapen berries at a time, but I would pluck one off as soon as I got home from school."

The color of those few raspberries astounded me—the shades of fuchsia that would pop out amongst the sea of green foliage—and always grabbed my attention. Distinguishing itself from the muted tones of the concrete driveway, I could always point out my small little bush to any passerby. Bright, vibrant, and unique, these shades of pink defined my late elementary and early middle school years. When I think of exploration, imagination, and my childhood as a whole, I tend to think about walking home after a long day of school, plucking a dark pink raspberry with one hand while carelessly opening the basement door with my other. This private routine that I created for myself remained a sacred ritual for years; I’ve loved raspberries, and the color pink, ever since. 

My family is close friends with the people who moved into the Main Entrance house after we moved away, so we visit them fairly frequently. Our friends are not very good at landscaping and our once neatly-kept front yard is now littered with overgrown shrubs and haphazardly planted flowers. It is, in the nicest way possible, a hot mess. In the corner of the clutter still stands our sad little raspberry bush. Although covered by the surrounding plants, I can see the berries trying their best to grow through the other plants. My raspberry bush is the only thing that hasn’t changed about the Main Entrance house since I left in seventh grade and I’m grateful for that. I may have not been able to pinpoint why I associated my childhood with the color pink at first, but that didn’t matter—it was about the memories I was trying to convey. And that’s all I’ve ever really needed to tell a story: a feeling, a color palette, and a couple of raspberries.

Fidel is a junior at the University of Pittsburgh double majoring in Film Production & Natural Sciences and minoring in Creative Writing. She was born in Wales and lived in Turkey for two years before moving to Pittsburgh, where she spent the rest of her childhood. She has an affinity for stories that take her around the world and introduce her to a variety of subjects.

Photo Credits:(Top two photos) Scenes of "Best Supporting Fruit" from Fidel's film "raspberry valley" Vimeo link for raspberry valley; (Bottom photo): Courtesy Wikimedia Commons ulleo on Pixabay [CC0].

by Jeremy Collings

I have completed this past Fall semester feeling as though I’ve just nearly escaped a bear attack. My propensity to agree to one too many responsibilities has resulted in a bit of burnout. To make matters worse, this semester leads into my least favorite time of year. Daylight is a scarce commodity, and every time I walk outside, the cold air makes me violently shiver. To make matters worse, the holidays bring with them the stress of getting gifts and being present for family traditions. These struggles make December a rather unpleasant month in my eyes.

What really makes this time of year so hard, though, is the lack of plants. Of course, what I am referring to is that most plants in central New York--where I currently live--are nowhere to be found by December. The botanical term for this disappearance is senescence, in which many perennial plants have killed off portions of their shoots, and most annual plants have died altogether. Only the plant seeds remain, to stratify during these cold months to germinate anew next spring. The resulting scenery of leafless stems and buried seeds isn’t quite as exciting to me as that of the growing season.

During times like this, when I am stressed, overwhelmed, or otherwise upset, taking a stroll and seeing my favorite plants provides a sense of belonging. Being able to see and identify all the members of local plant communities makes me feel grounded in the ecosystems that I work, play and relax in.

skunk cabbage peeking through snow in early spring

In early February, I seek out the eastern skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus, right) that has begun to sprout and melt the surrounding snow. Little spikes of green dotted with reds and purples are surrounded by rings of grass or mud where the snow has been melted by thermal radiation emitted from these plants. After a long and cold winter, skunk cabbage reminds me that brighter days are just on the horizon.

From March to May, I await the arrival of the myriad of spring ephemerals that pop up in the understory. I look forward to seeing spring beauties (Claytonia virginica, top), bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis, top), and trout lily (Erythronium americanum, top) for the short duration that they are flowering.

In mid-summer, I tend to spend time in wetlands. I always enjoy making cordage out of the leaves of cattails (Typha spp.). My soft spot for sedges causes me to look for the spiky green inflorescences on the water’s edge. I’m particularly fond of the Carex section Vesicariae. Their flamboyant, air-filled perigynia seem to fit the mood of summer. I’m still a novice at identifying this tricky family, so I often find myself admiring these peculiar plants to the sound of amphibian calls as the sun sets.

a late-fall witch hazel flower

In August, more and more patches of gold start to appear in fields and meadows as various species of goldenrod (Solidago spp.) bloom. In the coming months, my attention is fixed on members of the Asteraceae family. Of course, I love to identify the meadow goldenrods as well as the smaller and more delicate understory species. The New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) provides a stark contrast with its purple flowerheads. The last of the goldenrods form their less colorful cypselae sometime in November, just before witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) crafts its spindly yellow flowers that satiate my thirst for floral displays till the snow falls.

Now, there are no flowers outside of the campus greenhouse. It is difficult to persuade my body to endure the cold for a retreat into the woods. I am learning to appreciate what beauties remain (for there are many). Christmas ferns (Polystichum acrostichoides) maintain their deep green color, and I can occasionally spot some that have escaped being covered in white. The fertile fronds of sensitive ferns (Onoclea sensibilis) look like magic wands sticking out from the snow. The deciduous trees appear as wooden skeletons, covered in mosaics of lichens and mosses. The evergreen conifers provide a sense of stability in these harsh months. My favorite among them, the eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), forms quiet stands that I can hide in when the wind is biting. When I do make it outside, I find myself sitting on a particular fallen black cherry (Prunus serotina), reminiscing about the times I’ve spent with my favorite plants throughout the year. I find solace in the knowledge that they’ll return.

Jeremy is a senior at SUNY Cortland and finishing up his B.S. in Conservation Biology. He loves exploring, experiencing, and learning about the ecology of plants.

Photo Credits: wild leek (Allium triccocum, top) and witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana, bottom) courtesy Sara Kuebbing; skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus, middle) courtesy the author; spring beauty (Claytonia virginica, top), trout lily (Erythronium americium), and bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis, top) courtesy Mason Heberling.

by Catherine Schmitt

Gray’s Beach, 1995 I was supposed to be watching the birds but all I wanted to do was stare at the grass, waves of silvery green rippling in the breeze. The birds were beyond, at the true sandy edge of the sea, and as I walked toward them through the grass, I longed to linger in the marsh, to study the pools with their bacterial blooms of purple and yellow, to name the rushes and sedges that grew among the grass. At night, after a day watching piping plovers on the beach and a shift at the bookstore in town, I sat outside next to the river and listened to the sailboats clink and the tall grasses whisper in the dark.

Plum Island Sound, 1998 By then I knew that the tall form of saltmarsh cordgrass, Spartina alterniflora, grows along the immediate creek banks, and the shorter form fills the rest of the low marsh, flooded twice each day by the tide. The tall form makes a good handhold when climbing in and out of boats, and the short form crunches underfoot. The mud is soft and slippery, the ground uneven.

Away from the water and slightly higher, cowlicked swirls of salt marsh hay, Spartina patens, mixed with black rush and sea lavender, mark the monthly high tides. The ground is level, firmer.

Spartina creates land by filtering sediment from the flood tide, binding it with roots and stems into peat, thin layer by thin layer, tide by tide, year by year, the marsh grows. By reading the marsh, shadows and contours of alterniflora and patens, I could know the pull of the moon on the sea. I was the plant person in a scientific crew of fish, rock, soil, and water persons, all of us living by the tide, in a birdwatcher’s cottage surrounded by Spartina. I weighed each layer of silt as it washed in with the flood, counted and measured blades of grass, analyzed the carbon in clumps of grass, named all that grew among the grass. The laboratory reeked with rotting samples of Spartina. I smelled Spartina, I smelled of Spartina. I read the grass like a map or a clock, but I still didn’t know where I was going, or when. I only knew the tide, and the shadows of the grass.

Chesapeake Bay, 2000 Another cottage on another tidal river surrounded by marsh, but within a slow, strange, southern landscape of cornfields and pine plantations—unfamiliar, except for the grass, which was everywhere. Spartina encroached upon the raised garden beds, and tried to take back the lawn. It lined the roadside ditches and separated field and forest from bay. Above the marsh, eagle and osprey tangled over fish. There were kestrels on the telephone wires and turtles in the road, quail in the driveway and rabbits in the yard, crabs and oysters in the water. Sunsets stretched across the sky in radiant streaks. There were a few fig trees, overgrown honeysuckle and rosemary, but mostly there was grass, glittering with salt, and the bay, rising fast. I thought I had found a home, but it was time to leave.

Maine, 2001 Downeast Maine is a rocky place. I sought out Spartina when and where I could, in pockets along the hardened shore and in a few creek-drained marshes, in stories about polluted estuaries and restored rivers, eroding beaches and damaging storms. Squeezed between rough seas and steep forests, the marshes turn to gold each fall and are scraped by ice each winter. The frozen tufts are slow to green up in the spring, but by summer the grass has grown tall and glossy. Sometimes, when I’m walking along the rocky shore, Spartina far from my mind, I encounter a handful of shoots in a scrap of sand, familiar blades of grass taken root in a place I’d never expected. And those are the moments I know I am home.

Catherine is a science writer based in Bangor, Maine

Photo credits: Catherine Schmitt