Updated: Jul 26, 2019

by Caitlin McDonough MacKenzie

I fell in love with alpine plants at the bottom of the mountain. In college I worked as an environmental educator at a backcountry hut in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Many of these huts are “high mountain,” perched just at treeline for beautiful hikes through alpine communities with Sound-of-Music-style panoramic views of open summits.

My hut, Zealand Falls, was not a high mountain hut. Our elevation was 2700’ and we were surrounded by lowland trees like paper birch and striped maple. But, Zealand Falls had waterfalls. During the lull of midday — the post-breakfast quiet when all of last night’s guests had hiked on to higher peaks, and that night’s guests were still trudging up the trail — I spent hours wading up the Zealand River, lounging in the rills, climbing the falls.

Little clumps of butter-cup-yellow flowers clung to the moss-covered rocks in the middle of the falls: mountain avens. In New Hampshire, mountain avens belong to much higher elevations; this rare plant with a truly weird post-glacial distribution is endemic to the White Mountain alpine zone and coastal Nova Scotia. Mountain avens are supposed to be high mountain hut plants, not inland valley forest plants.

They didn’t grow on the banks of the river, or anywhere in the forest around the hut, just the waterfall. They seemed to know what I knew: the falls were a cool retreat from the July heat and humidity. Living with mountain avens, and sharing their waterfall microclimate for a summer, made me feel like I had a secret alpine plant “pet.”

Years later, I started graduate school and joined a research project that brought me back to alpine plant plots around the high mountain huts in the White Mountains. But, I always made a point to hike back to Zealand Falls and see my original “alpine” loves.

Caitlin "mountain aven" McDonough MacKenzie is a 2017 Smith fellow and a founder of Plant Love Stories. She uses fossil pollen to study plants of the past alpine plant communities in Maine. You can follow Caitlin in Maine at @CaitlinInMaine

#Mountain #College #Alpine #Maine

Updated: Jul 26, 2019

by Jessya

Both of my grandmothers lived with me growing up. My parents were immigrants and soon after they established themselves they arranged to bring their parents over to the US. They immigrated from the Soviet Union, and for a period of time we had all four grandparents under our roof. Both of my grandmothers loved plants. They nurtured them. They'd teach me which leaves to pluck out of the fields outside my school to treat warts, and which berries to eat, and where the best mulberry trees were, and which mushrooms to pick and which to leave. We'd have family mushroom hunting afternoons and spend the evenings frying up and marinating mushrooms.

My paternal grandmother treated most things with aloe. Burn? Aloe. Cold? Aloe. It weirded me out. It was snotty and runny and goopy and tasted bad. She passed away a few years ago. When she was getting worse she had to move out of her apartment and we had to distribute her belongings.

I took the two huge aloe plants in their large terracotta planters. They were overgrown and needed to be transferred, so I was able to make many many little plants and still have a huge overgrown pot. I distributed the little plants to friends and family, and continue to do so to this day.

Every time I rub aloe on my own kids after an afternoon in the sun, I remember my grandmother. I love that she lives on in my home through my aloe plant, and has now found her way into many other homes of the people I love. Grandma is all around me, filling my home with aloe and spider plants and my own mulberry hunts with my children. A little part of her will propagate through the generations.

Jessya is a biology teacher, mother, wife, and traveler foodie that lives in the Chicago suburbs.

#Aloe #Family #Grandmother #Healing #Children

Updated: Aug 28, 2019

by Mallika Nocco

My parents became two opposite people every time we traveled to Bangalore, both trying to cram everything they missed about India into one month. They seemed to revert back into their adolescent selves, each staying with a set of grandparents three blocks away from each other, my father eating six meals a day to keep both his father and his mother-in-law happy.

He would pick me up from my maternal grandparents’ house and take me in an auto-rickshaw to Gandhi Bazaar, a chaotic market filled with all varieties of snacks, spices, and trinkets. I loved these trips. My father seemed a rogue, eating the seductive forbidden street snacks and smoking cigarettes while I drank my grandmother’s specially prepared boiled, filtered water from a bottle.

It was in the middle of Gandhi Bazaar, I saw him do something baffling for the first time. From a street vendor, he picked up a luscious, fragrant tomato and bit into it, like an apple. “DAD!!! That’s a TOMATO! You can’t eat it like that!” He shook his head sadly at my ignorance. “In India you can. You don’t get tomatoes like this in Minnesota, not even from the farmer’s market. They are fruits, you know.”

When he dropped me off at my mother’s house (I preferred staying there due to far better mosquito control and food), she exclaimed at my dirty feet, making me scrub them on the stone floor before making my favorite dish of cucumber-tomato Raita, a salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, and home-made yoghurt. My mother’s true love of tomatoes only manifested itself in the dead of our Minnesota winters. Under fluorescent lights in the grocery aisles, she would look at the pale, dry tomatoes, and almost come to tears. “They look like vampires got to them first and sucked out all of their life! Do you remember how delicious the Raita was at your Ajji’s house, Malli?” “Yes, Mom,” I would say, embarrassed at her vivid show of emotion in the produce section.

My parents, possessing strong ideals about the way I should live my life, showed little support for any of my life decisions: college major, husband, job, home. It is amazing—the first and only time I have ever glimpsed true pride in my abilities from my parents was last fall, upon tasting my home-grown organic Brandywines and Green Zebras. “They taste even better than the tomatoes in INDIA!” my mother exclaimed. My father, never one to verbally express his affection, picked one up and bit into it like an apple.

Mallika "Nightshade" Nocco is an agroecologist, a founder of Plant Love Stories, and a 2017 Smith Fellow. This story (previously published here) once won her free tickets to TomatoFest.

#Tomato #Garden #Parents #India #Gardening #Family