Thursday, September 25, 2008


be in your body

be in your mind

be in your people

be in your world.

slips through the fingers

Every time I write a paper, it's amazing how solid an idea can seem until I go and try to defend it.

Friday, September 12, 2008


everything cycles; nothing repeats.

hints from heloise

Today I was reminded that some years ago I discovered that if you plop a towel or some clothes over them, you can keep your glasses from fogging up while you're in the shower.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Biked down the hill by way of the Boulevard on the way to my first ASL class today, and on turning off the path: lo, sand cherries! Which are really basically a kind of plum, a tasty tasty little plum, growing in ample quantity on each plant.

These lovely things have taken on a kind of semi-mythical quality for me ever since I first ran across them in Dr. Frank T. Siebert, Jr.'s documentation of the Penobscot language. In the Penobscot Dictionary manuscript we find listed two basic terms.*

First is nekawαmkimin 'sand plum, sand cherry (Prunus depressa Pursh)' pl. nekawαmkiminal. And then the plant itself: nekawαmkiminosi 'sand plum or sand cherry shrub (a low matted shrub of gravelly or sandy beaches)' pl. nekawαmkiminosəyal.

Second is αtawαmkimin 'sand cherry (Prunus pumila)' pl. αtawαmkiminal, along with αtawαmkiminosi 'sand cherry shrub or bush (Prunus pumila L.)' [erect shrub of dunes and sandbars, uncommon in northern Maine] pl. αtawαmkiminosəyal.

Quick etymological roll call:

-min 'fruit, berry, grain'
-αmk 'sand, gravel, granular material' (a classifier, in many uses, for you fans of such things)
nekaw- 'sand(y)', αtaw(e)- 'climb'

So here's the deal: since I'm obsessed with fruit (and free snacks from nature in general), I've been on the lookout for these for nigh on fifteen years. Something lurking in the back of my brain suggests I may have run into them once before a few years ago...but whether that blurry recollection is true or not (thank you, o brain of recent years), here they are now, right down the hill from me! And tasty.

Evidently Prunus depressa is now Prunus pumila var. depressa, and it looks from the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service materials like it might be the only P. pumila variety in the area. So we might think that either there's some special sub-variety or other distinction made by Penobscot speech community, perhaps reflecting the two different reported growth patterns, or these are two variant names of the same plant.

The plot thickens (who wants pudding?), however: the first thing Wikipedia tossed at me when I went looking for a photo was an entry on beach plums. Sadly, this kid is listed as endangered here in Maine. And P. pumila seems to be threatened too, though I'm not sure if in Maine as well.

I don't know my sand-vs.-beach plums well enough to tell for sure what they planted on the Boulevard---yep, these were planted, not wild, which in this case I think is actually much cooler: always nice to see humans using their distinctively rich capacity for agency in this world to help out another species.

So I'm an untrained plum-identifier, yes, but given that our friends at Wikipedia tell us that P. pumila ripens in early summer, while P. maritima ripens in August and early September, I think it's the latter we're looking at. That, and its photo matches what I saw today much better.

Oh, and the photos and descriptions of P. pumila var. depressa are low-growing, while P. maritima is a much taller plant (as again are the ones I met today), so there's a decent chance that nekawαmkimin is P. pumila var. depressa and αtawαmkimin is P. maritima.

So I am happy. How can an awesome little plum, possibly skittering back from the edge of extinction, not make you happy?

*(Omitting original acute accent marks, which don't render reliably on most browsers, but in the words cited here would be on the third vowel from the end, skipping "ə".)