“Do you care what’s happening around you? Do your senses know the changes when they come? Can you see yourself reflected in the seasons? Do you understand the need to carry on.” I was humming this John Denver song yesterday as I walked around the neighborhood with my camera, looking for signs of autumn.
I noticed something peculiar about some of the maple trees. I had seen this from my bedroom window a few days before. Black spots on the leaves, as if the rain we had the other day had pelted them with something corrosive. I took these down by the city pool.
And this is my “treehouse” tree, the one outside my bedroom window.
I wanted an answer to what made those mysterious spots, so I took my camera with me to the Wehr Nature Center where I had volunteered to sort fliers for school groups. I went to one of the staff naturalists, who referred me to another, Mark, who knew something about plant diseases. Mark said that it was probably a fungal disease and mentioned one, verticillium wilt, that is deadly to trees. He told me that I should look up a plant pathologist from UW Madison, Brian Hudelson, on the internet who diagnoses plant diseases from samples, for a fee. With visions from my childhood of elm trees felled all up and down the street for carrying Dutch Elm disease, I went to my computer looking for this tree specialist.
I found out that Dr. Brian Hudelson is the plant pathologist on the NPR show “Garden Talk”. His website contains instructions for taking samples and a fee chart for services from the diagnostic clinic he runs. Since these are city trees, I wondered if he’d answer my question based on just photos. I pulled my best Nature Center Volunteer card and wrote to him as a good citizen concerned about the health of our village trees. He responded immediately with a pdf information page on Tar Spot fungus. Fortunately, it’s not fatal to the tree and can be treated. I was so relieved that I sent back an immediate “thank you”. This was his reply:
Glad to help, and please don’t worry about misspelling my name. I really didn’t notice. I tell everyone that I respond to pretty much anything (including expletives). Everyone really just calls me Brian. If you want to call me Dr. something, call me Dr. Death. That’s been a nickname and radio handle for years (and DOES tickle the evil little boy in me).
Definitely let me know if you need information in the future. Happy to help.
I am so excited to be working with people who are passionate about what they do! Susan called me from her orientation day at UW Madison that afternoon. She was wondering if she should have her head examined for paying for a master’s program in linguistics by working full time. I told her that she was finally doing something about which she had always dreamed, that she was doing exactly what Joseph Campbell (author of The Power of Myth and professor at Sarah Lawrence for years) had advised all his students to do: Follow Your Bliss. This is the way to true happiness. I want to see myself, my children, everybody get to fly. What is life for, anyway, if not to live it passionately?
This morning at breakfast, Steve read me this poem. We both had tears in our eyes afterwards.
The Writer — Richard Wilbur
I am thinking of my kids; Josh and Becca will be driving back to Illinois from Oregon beginning tomorrow. I wish them a lucky passage. I wish all of us a flight that follows our bliss.