The other day I was having one of my regular phone conversations with my remarkable Aunt Marion, who holds the fort up on the Sedgwick family farm near Gelert, in Haliburton County. Aunt Marion is (as she would be the first to admit) no spring chicken, but that doesn’t stop her from tromping all over the countryside on a daily basis checking out everything from how many of the cattle can be spotted at any given time to what wild plants and flowers might be growing.
She was quite excited to report during this most recent conversation that she had discovered a Jack-in-the-pulpit. “First one I’ve seen in decades!” she announced. (And I believe her. You used to see them all over the place, and now – you don’t.)
Well, did that take me back. Back to classrooms (I want to say Grade 1, though I could be wrong; perhaps my Grade 1 teacher will correct me) at Madoc Township Public School, when I was growing up at the Manse in Queensborough. In those long-ago classrooms we learned about wildflowers (not to mention pistils and stamens, though perhaps that came a little later than Grade 1, given that they have to do with reproduction). I think I remember colouring in (with crayons, I mean) pictures of Jack-in-the-pulpits and trilliums (red and white) and so on: the beautiful wildflowers that dotted our very rural area and that were so familiar to us kids.
It reminds me of Shakespeare, truth be told. Shakespeare’s works contain hundreds of unmistakeable and sometimes very local and idiosyncratic references to the flora and fauna of his native Warwickshire (which gives the lie to all those kooky theories that someone other than “the Stratfordian” wrote Shakespeare’s plays). He grew up among the fields and the woods and the riverbanks of that county, and his work reflects his knowledge of what he found there. So too the collective knowledge of us kids at Madoc Township Public School – none of us future Shakespeares, by the way – included the local wildflowers. They were important in our lives.
What do you think are the chances that schoolchildren today are taught about wildflowers like Jack-in-the-pulpits or trilliums or (my personal favourite, if only for the anachronistic name) Dutchman’s Breeches?
I’m thinking slim to none. Which is just too bad.