Let Us Now Praise Obscure, Useless Plants

God and I delight in piratebush like he delights in me. /

The intermittent silence broken only by my footsteps, animal calls, and rushing rivers; the green sunlight shining through the tree canopy; and the constant coolness of the wind blowing over my skin evoke a feeling in me I can only describe as nostalgia for Eden. Lucky for me I have easy access to over 2,000 miles of uninterrupted nature known as the Appalachian Trail.

I’m not a through-hiker trying to make 17 miles before sundown; I usually hike short sections of the trail at the pace of an elementary school nature walk. I do this partly because I’m easily winded and partly because in slowing down I find delight in nature. And that slowness is how I discovered piratebush.

One summer, I set out to spend a few days exploring a small section of trail. I had no real purpose. I didn’t expect to have some radical epiphany. I was only seeking quiet.

I got on the trail near a popular fly-fishing spot on the Nolichucky River. Only one fisherman stood in the middle of the wide, shallow bit of river. He looked somber and content, and I hoped the trail would be solely mine just as the water was solely his.

It was early and the fog hung heavy and low as I climbed the mountain on the trail’s countless switchbacks. After some time—hours or minutes, I hadn’t paid attention—I crested the first mountain of the day. It was high, but not incredibly so. The day was getting on, and the sun was directly above me, so I stopped in a small, dry clearing just off the trail to rest. At the top of a steep cliff, the clearing overlooked the Nolichucky River Gorge. Here the river bent in an unpronounced horseshoe, allowing me to see for several miles along the cliffs that towered over the river. The cliffs descended ...

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Also in this Issue

Issue 45 / March 31, 2016
  1. Editor’s Note

    Issue 45: The fun in naming, how pyrite changed the world, and why it’s fine that piratebush didn’t change much of anything. /

  2. Our First Mission Isn’t Finished

    There’s plenty left to name in the sometimes silly, always vast field of taxonomy. /

  3. The Surprising Riches of Fool’s Gold

    Pyrite, the stone rejected as an imposter, is the cornerstone of the modern world. /

  4. Fetal Heartbeat

    “like the wings of millions of monarchs returned” /

  5. Wonder on the Web

    Issue 45: Links to amazing stuff.

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