By CD Puttenham
Plant Hunter
31 December, 1999

I awoke in a cheap motel room, a bright sliver of morning sun invaded the room through the blackout curtains. I arose, quickly dressed, and prepared for the search. What a wonderful day, crisp and cool, but not any snow yet, in the middle of November. I scraped the light frost from the windshield as the pickup warmed. Stopped for a cup to go, filled the tank, and hit the road.

As I drove out from town, I was awed by how fertile the soil was here. These rich alluvial deposits, laid down over countless generations of flooding and sedimentation, must always have been a choice spot for settlement and growth. Magnificent wooded bluffs surrounded and sheltered the broad river valley, with the revered Holy Place just visible in the distance. The nurturing Mother has given rise to all life here.

I drove across the river bridge, and as the V-8 lugged it,s way up the steep incline the cottonwood and burr oak gradually gave way to the flat plain above. Once this was a vast sea of native grasses and prairie plants above the plain, and a symbiotic system of roots, fungi, and microorganisms below. Above and below, everything depended on everything else to complete the harmonious whole. Big Bluestem and Sideoat once danced among the Indian grass and Buffalo grass. Wildflowers once painted the Prairie in the most improbable hues. The Bison cultivated and pruned their Garden; the Fire brought balance. The Big Bluestem grew six feet high above and twelve feet low below. Now the corn may grow knee high by Independence Day if ammonia is sprayed on the ground in early spring.

As I pulled off the pavement onto the first gravel road, I remembered that the wild hemp does not enjoy publicity, but a section away they thrived in abundant splendor. The golden skeleton or her exquisite architecture still bore testimony to her strength. The ditches and hedgerows evidence of her tenacious desire to survive. But here, man allows coexistence, and the mammals and birds are grateful for the feast. Thick pylons of hemp flank the entrance to the Monastery and the Boy Scout camp as well. There is no cause for concern here.

I made my way back to the highway, turned, and headed back down into the valley again. When I had almost reached the river, I saw the small unmarked turn off and pulled the truck into a small clearing in the trees. And there, partly obscured by bushes, was a bronze plaque that told of the Indian village that had once occupied this very site. I got out of the pickup, threw on my coat and went to stretch my legs. As I walked the road back from the river, I came upon a newly excavated drainage ditch and proceeded to walk along the bank. Where the hydraulic excavator had not crushed the ground, the hemp stalks were everywhere, pale and bleached against the clear sky.

Then I saw her dark outline, incongruously amongst her sisters. I crawled down and up the steep banks of the ditch across to where Her Majesty stood, proudly wearing robes of a royal velvet. I reached out to touch her, afraid that this vision might not be part of the Dream. Her inflorescence was leathery and glistening in the noonday sun. I pulled her down toward me and gently opened her swollen calyces to reveal the prize. A "nutlet" * popped out into my waiting palm; large, dark, and round. The terminal calyces were unfulfilled, she must have been very late, for her race. Thirty-eight degrees north latitude here, in November. She should have been living fifteen degrees south. But what would anyone do with true, oil seed hemp at twenty-three degrees of latitude?

I popped the seed in my mouth, crunched it up, and swallowed. Delicious!

* "nuts lenticular-globose"; [Stokes, 1812]
** "spurious nutlets"; [ Zhukovsky, 1964]