Kingdoms, pandemics and the search for a lion

“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the corner of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not pick your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger …” 

– Leviticus 19:9-11

Humans love to sort things into categories. Biologists, being human, are no different except they get pretty serious about how they do it. The granddaddy of biological classification was a Swedish naturalist, Carl Linnaeus, who assigned everything a Latin name, which I suspect hindered the curiosity of millions of humans since. 

Cogito ergo sum

Biological classification starts with division of all living things into basic differences, therefore, two kingdoms, Plant and Animal (and yes, there are some outliers). 

After kingdom, the sorting becomes more and more refined until you get down to the level where if you mate and produce viable offspring, you’re of the same species.

Much to the chagrin of various teachers in my early life, I never had much interest in the plant kingdom except that animals (my kingdom) eat them.

I once drew the ire of a botany professor when looking at a single-celled plant through a powerful microscope; I could not see tiny hair-like appendages that distinguished one from another. The professor kept saying, “There it is, there it is!” and I kept saying, “Where?” 

Asian Lion

I did not have the same problem with the distinguishing ears of Asian and African elephants, those being big and found on animals living on different continents. I think my professor resented my dislike of plants, especially small ones with atomic-sized golden hairs! I do like trees and any plant that produces fruit. 

Seven years ago, in India, I was on a “safari” in the “Last Sanctuary of the Asian Lion.” 

The safari was six hours of bouncing in a jeep that yielded no lions. Our guide, trying to salvage the outing, suggested a nature walk to look at plants and birds.

Our guide was a sweet man, but I said, “You do understand that we were looking for large, majestic, ferocious, lions! Looking at flowers and birds just ain‘t gonna wipe that disappointment away!” The poor man was crestfallen until I said; “Wait, you have crocodiles in the river, right? Let’s go see them.”


Fast forward to the start of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Since March, I’ve been home and taking care of food gardens. The virus arrived as spring emerged. I like food, and when the virus arrived and concerns that the food supply chain might be disrupted, grew, it seemed like growing food was a good idea. With the gardens has come a newfound appreciation for the plant kingdom. And, not only that, but I confess displeasure with some of my kingdom mates; deer, rabbits, turkeys, slugs and voles, all who believe that ‘what’s yours is mine.’ I enjoy sharing food with animals, but we’re still working out everyone’s fair share as they don’t water, fertilize, or weed. I get annoyed when they gorge themselves.

There is also another dimension to the plant kingdom on our land. Many of the plants were planted as memorials to departed friends and family members. The land is a garden of memory, which makes a walk around the place pretty emotional.

Here are a few of the memorials.


Two Willamette Valley ponderosa pine trees planted for Esther and Mike, two elders from my life who always opened their home and gave me a supportive place when my family blew apart. The trees are 10 feet apart, so they will grow individually before merging together as did Esther and Mike for a long marriage.

Willamette Valley Ponderosa Pine and Orcas pears.

An Orcas pear, Plum tree and a Tropicana rose, commemorate Nancy’s mother, Lucille, a public health nurse and kind human being. 

 A cherry tree is planted for another friend/sister, Roseanne, who asked us to plant a cherry tree for a woman she took care of. This we did, but now, the tree evokes Roseanne, who died too young a few years ago.


A gooseberry bush recalls my father, who grew them in a pea patch outside of New York City, where he spent summers puttering in the garden. 

The gooseberries reminded him of his mother, Eva, my grandmother, whom I never met, and seeing the bush and tasting even one tiny berry from it brings my father and grandmother to life.

We have a Mountain Hemlock tree planted for my Uncle Wesley, with a hermetically sealed pineapple pie buried in the ground near it.  

Confined to a bed in his last year of life, Uncle Wes greeted visitors with the offer of a fruit pie that he had in great quantity. So full of chemicals are these pies that I’m sure when the aliens arrive sometime in the future they’ll have something on which to snack. 


The Pie That Lasts For All Eternity

We have a stand of colorful hollyhock flowers named, Ruby’s Hollyhocks, because our daughter Ruby grew them as a child and packaged and sold the seeds as a side business. At one time, we thought the seeds might pay for college, but that didn’t pan out.

And last, there is lavender from Italy, the plant we built our nursery, The now legendary Sawmill Ballroom Lavender Farm, that grew plants taken from cuttings we obtained from friends Reinhold and Milena, in Italy.

The enchantment of plants is ever stronger as we enter month six of the Coronavirus epoch. Presently, peppers, cabbage, onions, greens, cauliflower, peas, and zucchini are hitting the dinner table, and cucumbers are starting too, which means pickles, which I like a lot. I feel a bit like a traitor to my animal kingdom, but, when I die, it will please me if there is a commemorative plant grown in my memory.

And a lion too!

Tuscan Lavender

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