Wednesday, November 04, 2015
On one of those first cold days--not January-cold, just cold as in "not summer"--I wore a sweatshirt when I worked outside. Came in, hung it up, and didn't put it on again for another week or so when it got cold down here in the basement. I was sitting in the chair right here in front of the keyboard when something got irritating down in the lower lumbar. I moved. It stopped. Then returned. I swiped the pocket of the hoodie to adjust the fabric. The itchy-ness stopped. Then returned.
What the heck? I thought. I reached back and found three of these little guys in a heaping clump--hitchhikers, we used to call them, a cute word; but then even the name they go by in real life is a scream--"cocklebur." Sounds like baby-talk almost, doesn't it? That's a cocklebur.
You know the story. You and and the retriever walk by, you get hitchhikers, even though you never once saw anyone with a thumb out. What's more, they're freeloaders, All they really care about is riding along. Don't even care where you take 'em. Annoying too--"Hey, mind if I ride along?"
But they don't even ask.
Their passports are huge. You might think they're a plague only in your backyard, these guys have cousins all over the world. They get around.
Don't be fooled. They've got an agenda. Each of them carries two seeds, so while you may think them innocent, they're actually hellbent on mastering the universe. They want you think they're harmless so you'll shuck 'em like I did, and let them fall to wherever they can find a lot that's not already theirs. Then they'll produce hundreds more little freeloaders to catch on the next dupe. To them, you're just mass transit. They use us shamelessly.
I'm being too harsh. God loves 'em, I'm sure, but then sometimes he's embarrassingly promiscuous. Still, next time you find a clump on your cuffs, think on this. The two seeds wrapped in that torturous garb stay healthy enough to germinate for years on end. You were thinking that once snow flies these guys are finished?--no way. They're hot to trot for years.
If you think that this one doesn't look like yours, you're probably right. Because they travel all over the world--I'm not making this up--they're often victims of what biologists call "genetic drift," which means, basically, that their newer colonies, wherever they bloom and mature, don't necessarily retain the genetic map of the ancestors. They're not prissy about purity. I've never yet met a Parisian cocklebur, if you know what I mean.
They're sneaky too. They grow only when the nights are long and dark. Seriously. Cockleburs, no matter what the genetic code, are "short-day" plants. They're not big on heat, but without darkness they're Popeye without spinach. Night owls. Just creepy.
If you really want to know, they're just plain old sunflowers, and the world has somewhere in the region of 24,000 species of sunflowers. Don't let 'em get uppity on you; they're just plain common folks.
One more thing. Check this out. It's an old rug from the Southwest. What's this family heirloom have to do with the hitchhikers on my sweatshirt?
Down here in the basement that rug is on the wall down and in that gorgeous frame with nary a hook or nail, almost like magic. People who know things about ancient rugs say it's not a good idea to hang rugs from a series of tacks or nails, no matter how brassy or showy. The way to do justice to such old and fine works of art is to hang them like this, with Velcro.
Cockleburs are the inspiration for Velcro. I'm not making this up. Some Thoreau-type in Switzerland, a man named George de Mestral, decided to haul out his microscope to try to determine why he and his dog were peppered with hitchhikers when they returned from a tramp in the meadow. He took one look at all those hooks and determined to create an adhesive of hooks and fasteners based on the clumpy mess he pulled off his hiking buddy.
It happened. Cocklebur inspiration.
All of which leads to this lesson from Sunday School: you just never know when you're picking up angels unaware.
Posted by J. C. Schaap at 6:45 AM