My wife and I felt we needed a break from our routine, and wound up at a beautiful farmhouse in a small town, inland and away from all the traffic and hubbub of the coast of Maine. The house was surrounded by tall black locust trees at the height of their bloom, and the perfume in the air was enchanting. I felt we had escaped pettiness.
In the evening twilight I did a bit of lazy research about black locusts, as it is one of the most valuable types of lumber, if only you can find wood that hasn’t been drilled into Swiss cheese by a annoying beetle. Not only is the wood one of the hardest, it also burns hotter than all other firewoods, nearly matching the BTU power of coal. Americans felt the tree was so valuable they transplanted it beyond its natural range, perhaps greedily gloating over the future supply of excellent lumber they’d harvest, but then around the year 1900 the beetles spread like a plague, and rather than prime lumber people had wormy and worthless wood, and trees that tended to snap off in strong winds and then send up thorny shoots from roots and stumps. The tree became more of a weed than anything else.
On the bright side, black locust does stabilize unstable hillsides prone to erosion, and does fertilize the soil with nitrogen, but….there is also a not-so-bright side: Black locust is invasive, in landscapes that are naturally prairies.
Black locust seems one of those “if only” plants, a tree with great expectations, but a disillusioning reality. The blooms are so profuse and sweet they are a bee-keeper’s delight, and result in a rare and delicious honey, but…..(and there is that word “but” again)…it only blooms for ten days.
If only. If only you could line up all the positives without all the negatives you could have tall trees producing honey in the spring and firewood in the fall, excellent lumber, and even the tree’s pods can produce food if the poison is removed…..but….the negative is part of life, on this sad planet, and you wind up with a thorny, runty invasive species with wormy wood. The only way to get any good involves lots of hard work….but….I’m on vacation. Who needs hard work on a vacation?
It is very nice that I get to see black locust at their best, as tall trees untroubled by beetles, because the beetles don’t like the extreme cold of Maine’s winters (or the high mountains of Black Locust’s original range.) I can breathe deeply of the perfume filling the twilight, because I lucked into the brief period when they are in full bloom. And lastly, I can just lazily browse my way through the internet, rambling without ever working (because research is not work, but rather is fun, for me).
Because this tall, beautiful tree can become a scrubby invasive species out on the prairie, it occurred to me that locusts can be like locusts of the grasshopper sort. If you want to raise wheat on the treeless prairie, you want neither sort of locust, and have to go through all the work of using insecticides or herbicides, and facing all the environmental hazards of using chemicals, and who wants to contemplate a problem as complicated as that, when goofing off on vacation?
Instead I decided to wander off into the topic of what sort of locust John the Baptist ate, when he was out in the wilderness, subsisting on “locusts and honey”. Was he eating the pods of a locust tree? Or was he eating grasshoppers? Surely, when you go back to the original Greek the two words are not the same.
Somewhat amazingly, it turns out the two words are similar even in the original Greek. The Greek word “akris” means “grasshopper” and the Greek word “enkris” means “honey cake”. And wouldn’t you just know it? This similarity got a fuss going between vegans and non-vegans, way back in the early days of Christianity.
Apparently Saint James was vegan, and at some point a certain sect insisted that all Christians had to be vegan, which created a hubbub, because other Christians stated Christians were freed from dietary restrictions and could even eat pork.
Well, well, well! The more things change the more they stay the same. But I will say this: One thing I am not about to do, when on vacation, is enter the squabble between vegans and non-vegans. That sounds too much like work, to me.
In running a Childcare I spend far too much time breaking up fights. Small children can rage and declare war over absurd things, such as the ownership of a certain stick, in a forest holding hundreds and hundreds of sticks. And to be quite honest, adults aren’t all that different, with their devious power-struggles involving elaborately crafted and silly schisms. (It is not merely in “Gulliver’s Travels” that people war over whether to open boiled eggs at the pointed side or the rounded side.)
Such nonsense is tiresome to the mortal soul. Sometimes we need to take a break, to just walk away from all the silliness, and just fill our eyes with the vision of white blossoms billowing against a blue, blue sky, and fill our lungs with the ambrosia of black locust perfume.
Like a soul walking up and out of hell
I once waltzed away, last day of school,
From ostracism, from a principle
Who was mindless, from teachers who were cruel,
From wicked classmates prone to snickering
At my tears, and entered into landscapes
That knew mercy, with night skies flickering
With God’s lightning, and sunrises all escapes
From bullying routine. My barefooted skin
Felt dew between toes rather than hot shoes,
And rather than a sergeant’s discipline
My orders were to rest. I’d paid my dues
And wandered through green landscapes of healing,
Astounded at what Kindness is revealing.