Resolve

Begin with one voucher packet
see what is within
this sample provokes a section
to test the monotypic genus proposed
Black fur perhaps Cystocoleus ebeneus.
Move to the stereoscope
fresh water for the droplet
a scalpel to extract tissue
for the glass slide, positioned
and ready to cover.

On to the microscope stage
with light, filters and condenser to set
to see the anticipated filament forms
with lenses x100, x400 and x600
to magnify the anatomy to verify
the characters we need to have to get to species.

Doubt at identity now assuaged
and voucher rationally boxed morphologically
the result is ready to add to the record
ready to move on to the next specimen.

Resolve happens sample by sample,
one every so often
a quarter of an hour or more
allowing you the time it takes
to validate, verify and test.

This black fur looks by eye no different
to the temperate species
that visual recognition provoked.
Our tropical montane saxicolous sample
with the evidence that we have
gets classified the same
a result that takes decision, resolve and passion
to create this identification,
a botanical mythology for an island.

A check on the literature shows that
it has been seen in the tropics before
by Thwaites probably in Ceylon
Back in the 1840s,
so while new in Saint Lucia,
it is not so unexpected.

This full time occupation of mind and eyes
walking a landscape screening for thalli to sample
of species that look the same,
close to the truth
kept for future science testing methods
so that novel differences, if any, may be discerned
with continuously advancing science,

This is our method to induce
a latent curiosity in the rock faces
and tree trunks and leaves around,
scholarship transferred,
one entity at a time,
to build botanical knowledge
for a developing society
combating colonial oppression,
to get to biodiversity conservation
by passing the utilitarian view of nature
that gets in our way of conserving life.

Howard Fox
6 June 2019

Nine Worlds

Our very own Yggdrasil fell the other day,
An Ash tree,
holding Nine Worlds in its branches and roots.
Bourne from the Well of Urd, right here by the Tolka,
snowbound and closed, storm Emma blew
from the East-North-East for three days:
Wednesday ‘til Saturday.

Glasnevin watched over this ‘Waterer’s Variety’ Ash
in the far grounds, number 1888.011023.
This 30 metre tree – some 120 years old, graceful,
holding Nine Worlds in its branches and roots.

A yellow flame of Chrysothrix candelaris
on its latticed trunk, made it visible from afar.
Honey fungus, at a root buttress,
was noted, 14 September, five years ago,
warning that its time was near.
Armillaria gallica, a honey fungus variety
has rotted out its fifth of the root plate.

Nine Worlds of our very own Yggdrasil were alive here, last week.
Leafy lichens of 20 kinds,
crusty ones and fungi of another 20 sorts.
Nine fungal infections of lichens,
five mat-forming mosses, three cushioned ones,
two liverworts and a 16-spot ladybird, in an Ash tree.

Sixty species crowned this Glasnevin village Ash:
all grown from wild gardener’s spores,
30 years afresh in Mary Harney’s clean air.
Our very own Yggdrasil
holding Nine Worlds in its branches and roots,
full of cryptogamic spore bark life,
a centre of spiritual cosmos,
right here by the Tolka, the Ash that fell the other day.

Howard FOX, Botanist, 7-8 iii 2018

Handwriting – twin pencils catch the muse

Always to hand,
ink in all its permanence
leaves its pale tattoo,
on a right-hand middle finger tip,
from a hand held fountain pen,
after washing with soap,
while leaks make for
a messy laundered pen pocket.

The capped fountain pen requires tissues,
an ink bottle of south sea blue too,
and a draw fill chamber squeezed –
inhaling ink for handwriting,
patted down for cleanliness
in a grip well above the nib
A leather shod foot to break a fall
might save the nib, if you are quick.

Graphite wood case pencil rounds,,
long handled twin pencils in hand,
from finger clamp to palm side,
pointed by an office topper,
metallic sharpener’s wood turned coils
make for dusty graphite centered shavings
caught by a sea whelk shell’s belly,
twin pencils pared, essential, if a lead breaks,
one pencil left to keep going with.

Pastel A4 paper, so the handwriting can be,
by colour, of ink or paper,
re-found on a cluttered desk top to type up.
Beech wood quartos and bamboo octavos
as writing boards, travel with me.
Filter paper scientifically blots the mess
from emotionally dry sentences,
while sea shells from beach combing
fancy goods of a stationery press
are a scouts’ tools for handwriting.

Fair copy hand typed on a keyboard
lines set for the computer and internet,
a postcard to you and your smart-phone
so as to be ready to be read,
if you have the battery charged,
and you are in the humour, to connect.

With a scouts’ obsession of having tools to hand:
for when the fickle muse calls
and words start to tumble out
some unholy time of day or night,
my trusty twin pencils pared
are always ready to write.

Howard Fox

I do not like squared paper – towards a solution to a science dilemma

Laboratory Books I need to love
on every page have squared paper –
a push away from science.
Title, abstract, introduction,
materials, methods, results,
discussion, conclusions, references
is our way.

Squares for every single letter.
Squares for every single digit.
Obsessively square control
for everything written every time,
every day in a square,
day by day, in laboratory books.

My love of digits in squares faded
with childhood mathematical prowess.
Now I could not do a budget
to save a single round cent,
yet I need to love squares again
to get some science done.

I think I am finding a way.
1000 questions in long hand
writing across square boundaries
as if they do not box me in.
Angle the page so as my hand
follows a horizontal sometime.
Write on every second line
for a page at least.

Are the problems real? The trauma is.

An unethical pharmacology demonstration
in a graph on squared paper
displaying after injection the last of a life.
Traumatic physics assignments,
of metallic springs stretched
beyond their design load.
Laboratory Book marking
turned me to botany,
and on to vegetation quadrats
standing in squares recording plants.
Geographic co-ordinates are
squares set on arcs on the celestial round,
squares undermined by cadastral appeal.

The scientific solution is to add
a compass with pencil arcs
to turn squared paper on the lathe to beauty.
Arcs and curves, sine waves and parabolas –
squares inhibit, if you do not love them.
Rekindle that spirit of botanical inquisition
to understand, model and represent.

Build that scientific model
from the materials to hand
of some phenomenon in the world.
Back of an envelope, they say,
Why not the herbarium folded packet
Latin name, plant geography, date, collector.

Find your voice, find your style,
let your laboratory book be
your window on to that inquisitive life.
For the love of squares, with a compass then,
create arcs of roundness,
and a few tweaks here and now,
terms of reference, ethical concerns,
why this science is good for society,
and why it is right for us to do.
Masking tape to add notes culled from
notes written in undisciplined places,
until I like squared paper in the
Laboratory Books I need to love.

Botanical species: dispensed scripts for posterity.

Quiver of pencils, in a breast pocket, equally sharpened,
with a topper, just in case,
in a pocket with herbarium cards.
Blank white labels to be scribed on
with a front and a back,
designed by Maura – 25,000 printed, in 1978 …

Handwritten or typed words to set questions
in front, answered in bespoken lines,
the back for line drawings
indexed by the
botanical species:
dispensed scripts for posterity.

Ready for readers of a future time, in 2017 …
to be read out loud, or in the mind.
Composed of details direct from a specimen seen,
concepts and ideas with an essence of home truth
that can soothe your decisions, if read in time,
advice from experience of comparative botany
notes from prior identifications,
your own observations and their conjunctions with ours.

Identification efforts made, references checked,
work done, content with the result,
now for a nod or a smile in the end,
that brings you to computerize the
botanical species:
dispensed scripts for posterity.

Mushroom botany … for the sake of beauty

This poem was composed after a concise explanation of mushroom taxonomy focused on the specimen, the species, the genus and the family, was set out in conversation in the evening after a mushroom foray, at Longueville House, Mallow, County Cork. I dedicate this poem to Jim Fraser. Another title that works for this piece is – Mushroom Taxonomy. .

I.
The carpophore is true.
This stalked fruit body is true.
A specimen is real to me,
And, is real to you.
A stem, with cap, and gills,
you have…
A specimen is one true,
one true, taken from nature,
one true, made from this.

Fruit bodies of one species…
ought to have properties in common.
Features of cap,
features of stem,
and features of gills,
all that are true,
by God, by colour, by form,
by growth, by life, by all.

Congruence in morph,
equal in tone,
over the cap,
equal in zones,
neat radial gills,
attached equal in some way,
with stem surface parts …
equally rolled,
over the round.

Species is the ultimate unit
science creates to cope with this –
variation on the round, of
features of cap, gill and stem.
A name to go with it…
The species epithet…
we have to use it, now and then,
when we, who know and see it,
when we, see it again,
the name of the species …
is the epithet, we know it by.
And this will be the name we call it,
when nothing has escaped our eye.

A genus is a way of grouping,
A way of grouping species …
By pairs of species that share some features,
Whether we have the words or not
Things that are made of the same sort,
Things that are made of the same kind,
Things that form in the same kind of way,
Congeners share …
Congeners are our decision
on the closely knitted group.

Families, then, are more abstract, with a few, or more, principles in common …
Spore print colour …
White, cream, pink, cinnamon or dark purplish black …
Stem cap and gills for an agaric,
Stem cap and pores for a bolete,
Stem cap and folds for a girolle,
Gills break easy or milk when reflexed in Russulaceae
Families, then, are more abstract, with a few, or more, principles in common …

II.
The name we use botanically is a binomial of genus and species –
The genus: a predictor of form,
and the species: the one of that kind.
The family placement: an overview that we summarize.

Bizarre that taxonomy is so predictable,
the same result each time.
Constructed on logical argument,
and close observation of …
mycological colour, morphology and anatomy, studied optically.
Taxonomy is the consensus about the same kind.

Imagine the groups,
imagine genera,
something that comes with experience,
comes with a synopsis of one’s specimen examinations…
Drawing together forms in common,
that look the same,
that dissect the same,
that live in the same worlds …
of lacustrine moss …
but have different words – Massalongia carnosa fertile, foliose, Polychidium muscicola fertile, fruticose,
Imagine creating a family: Massalongiaceae
Logically needed for this congruence…

Put together a taxonomic system,
the goal of systematic botany,
A system to cope with all species,
is a sort of a yoke …
A yoke that makes sense of
All what we have seen …
living and growing in nature,
with logical keys to separate out
this from that,
that we can cope with,
a yoke to make nature comprehensible,
to those folk
with the insatiable curiosity
to look, and provoke.

Collect, observe, magnify,
draw, colour and illustrate.
Name and label the parts,
and distill into science,
a taxonomic method,
for enlightenment …

Writing up species for human utility is no way…
Use taxonomic honesty, systematic creativity, and floristic reality …
to describe our lands’ vegetation geography, for conservation, in a prescribed legal way,
to make destruction of each life, a species taboo, with which we inhibit
the banker’s and their chainsaw’s …
greed
in a society that destroys beauty.

Howard FOX

A bark at bedtime

He lies on the floor,
feet to the door,
back to the press,
with kibble bowl ahead,
empty for now.

Getting things ready for him,
water and food for the night,
he sits up in reaction,
then lies back and stretches,
resuming his snooze.

Untying my laces,
shedding my shoes,
I pad about
to click on the kettle
for tea, for me.

He drinks some water,
whips his ears in a shake,
couch scratches a bit,
that unsettled bed,
waiting his time.

He inspects my toes with his nose,
in passing to the door.
Noise brings him to bark,
asking me if I am ready to rest?

So to finish this ode,
and make the last line,
before we head for the hills,
he barks … a few times.

© Howard Fox, 2017