I met someone today who said, “Oh, you’re THE Rose! The horticulturalist.”
I just looked at him, because of all the labels I’ve had and claimed– storyteller, writer, singer, actor, mother, and others that had nothing to do with my accomplishments– nothing has ever been remotely close to horticulturalist.
“The botanist?” he tried again.
I mean, I love gardening, but that seemed quite a stretch.
“You’re the person who knows about local flora and fauna,” he tried, both of us getting progressively more befuddled at this confusion. “Well, that’s who you are to my family anyway.”
“Oh! The trees! Yes, I guess so.” I’d showed his wife and kids how to tell the difference between a balsam and a spruce, a white pine and a red pine, and how jack pine cones only open by fire. “No one’s ever called me that before.” But he was not to be convinced otherwise.
I was just repeating what I’d heard, what I’d picked up while living in the woods with people nerdier than me about these things. And then I lived with those trees as my constant neighbors, so I knew them; they weren’t abstract, and the information became more than bullet points or trivia.
It became like memorizing my grandma’s phone number by the feel of the yellow rotary phone that whish-chuck-chuck-chucked under my fingertip.
Or knowing how to drive the back roads to Spectacle Lake but not being able to write down the directions: I only knew it while barefoot and in my swimsuit, already smelling faintly of the water.
Or the body-knowledge of making a pie crust. The ancestral alchemy that is both nature and nurture and has me do the right thing without knowing why.
What if all knowing is like this? What if all learning is overhearing, listening in, repeating, contributing your own individual encounters: the burst of a blister of balsam sap on your fingers and its sharp deciduous scent, the fox you saw beneath the boughs, the jack pine that creaked by the bridge (saved from wildfire by the helicopter and buckets of lake water long ago).
And now, just by playing telephone, just by saying, “Oh, I see it– look, there!” I am someone else, someone more; another Me I hadn’t yet named, just the way those kids hadn’t yet named the trees.
I thought I was just Rose. But an erstwhile scholar has come with a book of Latin, rich as spells, and given me a whole new string of names to call the forest of myself.