Stinking Benjamin

(I’m emailing myself again…) (It is a great way to remember what I want to write about it. Thank you technology.)

12:47 AM (5 hours ago)

Did you know that trillium smell like dead, raw and/or rotting meat. The smell attracts ants, which carry the plant’s seeds.

One species is called Stinking Benjamin.

(And, then, mysteriously, another is Sweet Betsy.)

If I EVER see anyone digging up a trillium in the wild, I will kick them in the shins and report them to Dept. of Natural Resources. You ought to do the same.*

Stinking Benjamin was the first real, live trillium I saw here in WNC. At Chimney Rock, in Henderson County. I had taken the children to see the ‘big rock’ as in “Hey kids, guess what super fun thing we’re going to do today!? We’re going to see the BIGGEST ROCK EVER! And we can go up on it!”
I used up so much of my enthusiastic mom energy when the kids were super tiny. Really, who gets a 2 1/2 year old and an infant jazzed to see a giant rock? Sheesh.)

So, we saw the giant rock that day. Olive slept THE ENTIRE TIME, she was strapped onto me in some contraption I’m sure has improved in design.

The rock was intense. The view, quite lovely. The real excitement came when I absent-mindedly mentioned that there were waterfalls at the end of a hike. I mentioned this to Leo, age 2 1/2, who somehow struck me as becoming attached to the notion of seeing the waterfalls. Impossible, I’m sure, for a toddler to give much more than a 2-second-damn about waterfalls. But, somehow we ended up trying to walk to see Hickory Nut falls. (That is how Leo got attached! He used to love to throw bucket after bucket of hickory nuts into the river in south Georgia. He and my dad would spend amazing amounts of time selecting only the finest, most intact hickory nuts for lobbing, plunking, and rolling into the brackish water. He loved hickory nuts. He wanted to see the waterfall because of it’s name. I understood, as I also wanted to see the waterfall because of it’s name.)

We never saw it. We almost did. We could hear the water. Which terrified Leo, who was phobic of showers. I’m not kidding. It was a serious problem for a couple of years. Really. I’m not kidding.

I 1/2 carried him, slung across my shoulders like a shoat, 1/2 dragged him the mile+ back to the car. The sun splattered the broad gravel road and my knees were on fire. But, the day was all blue sky and yellow sun, dove-grey shade. Air that smells like the space between leaves.

We were a sight. Olive was still drooling in her front pack. I shielded her baby head from her toddler brother’s restless feet, which squirmed and banged against my shoulder, not wanting to walk, just wanting to squirm as the boy relaxed across my shoulders or sat upon them, gripping my eyebrows in anxiety of his being so strangely tall as he rode on his mom’s shoulders.

Two different groups of tourists took our picture, ‘weird tattooed lady, covered in children, Chimney Rock, NC, 2004.’

But, there were Stinking Benjamin everywhere on the south side of the trail. I had never seen a trillium, but knew what they were. Had been quietly, occasionally fascinated by them for a little bit of time. (Also: sweet shrub/Carolina Allspice/Calycanthus, another plant I’d never seen and fell madly in love with at first site of its spidery, maroon blooms, it’s graceful branching structure.)

It was, even then, a fun day. Even though Olive woke up as soon as we got in the car, even though I missed the turn to get on 64 and got lost, but not really lost because we ended up on 74A, which we now drive on all the time to get to my parents’ house. I got directions (“…um, go straight?”) back to Asheville from a bemused teenager working at what we now refer to as ‘the slow Sonic.’

But I saw my first trillium and Calycanthus. I carried my children down a dirt road, felt strong and happy, stood on top of a magnificent rock and smiled at the way the mountains disappeared into the southeastern horizon.

My friend suggested the book Wildflowers of the Ohio Valley, Tennessee, and the Southern Appalachians to me. It is amazing. I plan on carrying it with me, so that I can read it all the time.
Friends are good. Trillium are wicked cool.

I tried to draw one about five years ago. It looked twisted and small, puny. I was delighted to realize that, through drawing everyday, the three-leaved beauty is accessible to me. Yesterday’s drawing was a quick oil pastel sketch. I was exhausted, but determined to finish it. Staying up late to draw a Stinking Benjamin is a beautiful thing.

Good Morning, Friday.

*Current note, May 21st 2012 I don’t go back and edit my posts (out of a sense of archival sanctity) – but, sometimes I will leave notes and current clarifications. Re: kicking in the shins, well – I don’t know that I would do that now or would have done that even then. I also don’t know why the DNR is the authority on the land, as the only reason this species and many others are threatened is because the land has been under authority and has been seen as a Resource. Thanks for reading.

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