Friday, May 06, 2005

Tongues in trees

Wood anemones along the wooded path.

One of the first popular nature guides was Mrs. William Starr Dana's How To Know the Wild Flowers, published just before the end of the 19th century, and now back in print. Here is what Mrs. Dana has to say about the anemone:

The name means "windshaken." She quotes a snippet of William Cullen Bryant: "Within the woods, whose young and half transparent leaves scarce cast a shade, gay circles of anemones danced on their stalks." A dollop of Whittier, too. And then some lore from ancient Greece: the flowers sprang from the tears shed by Venus over the body of her slain lover Adonis.

You don't get this sort of thing in modern field guides. Mrs. Dana's delightful book reminds us (with Shakespeare) that it's possible to find "tongues in trees, books in running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything."