Wednesday, May 30, 2012


The other night, I went for a walk to enjoy the last moon of spring, the last moon of Wabun, the Golden Eagle.  This be the Corn Planting Moon.

According to the Farmer’s Almanac, the days right now are long, fourteen hours and thirty-seven minutes long, to be exact.  By the end of this moon, on June 20th, the day will be ten minutes longer, the longest days of the year, clocking in at fourteen hours and forty-seven minutes, the summer solstice.

According to the Wheel, people born under these spring moons are full of wonder and curiosity.  They are awake.  They are spontaneous and creative and, like Wabun himself, they are able to soar high, see clear and see far.  Wabun’s children are, by nature, explorers, hunters, scouts, trailblazers, navigators, pilots and cosmonauts. 

The Wheel always moves forward…but to what?  Usually, it’s about food.  The trees and plants have mostly flowered and budded and leafed and they are now beginning to fruit.  This is food, whether it comes in the form of flowers, stems, buds, roots, bark, leaves, fruit or pollen.   

The wild dinner bell is ringing. 

The new growth of spring rings that bell.  On the farm, this is the time when new lambs and piglets wean off the milk and taste, for the first time, green food.  In the forests, wild berries are just about to burst, the perfect food for bears.  In the woods, the beaver family swims out of the lodge and chomps down the weak new trees to repair the winter damage to their dams.  On the plains, the grass is growing high and that provides a cover for the rabbits and mice as they dart across the fields and lawns, looking for food, hiding from hawks and owls.  Bats are born in May and June, just in time to catch the bees and insects hunting for pollen in the roses and peonies and sunflowers.  Down by the sea, the blue crab molts under the first full moon of May and becomes soft-shelled.  The seagulls and pelicans have been waiting.

And for us?  This third moon of spring is salad: lettuce, carrots, cucumbers, baby turnips, baby beets, spring onions, green garlic, the radish, the rainbow chard and the spinach.  

Eat up…but don’t forget to plant the corn.

This is the Corn Planting Moon.

This moon actually has many different names.  It’s sometimes called the Strawberry Moon.  If you take a visit to any local farmers’ market, it’s easy to see why.

It’s also called the Rose Moon.  I like to do my rose-hunting by night.

But I prefer to call it the Corn Planting Moon.  Here on Turtle Island, it’s hard to think of a plant more important than corn, our native grass, the maize, the food of the ancient Wheelmakers themselves. 

I’ll wait for summer to talk about the corn.  It’s the moon that fascinates me now.  This one is for Wabun’s children: the pioneers.  These curious pilots?  Sometimes, they bring back trees.


In 1971, three astronauts launched into space under the name of Apollo 14.  Their mission?  To land, and play golf, on the moon.  Stuart Roosa was one of those astronauts.  At the behest of the U.S. Chief of the Forest Service, he had brought, up into space, hundreds of tree seeds.   

Five types of trees were selected for the experiment: the loblolly pine, the sycamore, the sweetgum, the redwood and the douglas fir.  These seeds would later be germinated and planted across America.   

They are called Moon Trees.

The very first Moon Tree was planted in Philadelphia’s Washington Square in May 1975, in anticipation of the Bicentennial.  

Philadelphia received a sycamore.  Stuart Roosa himself was there to help plant it on the corner of 6th and Walnut Streets.

Stuart Roosa, one of Wabun's children, center

The other day, I went to hunt it down.


As you can see, it is gone.  It died in 2008.  Looking at some of the pictures, you can’t really say it fared very well in Philadelphia. 

There is hope though.  A section of the Moon Tree was saved and re-rooted and planted behind the original location.

Lucky for me, not too far away from Washington Park, there is another souvenir tree from another great adventure.  Actually, there are seven.


There is an old, small, storied graveyard located on 3rd and Pine Streets, part of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church.  This graveyard is home to several osage orange trees that were sent from St Louis to Thomas Jefferson in 1804, by way of Lewis and Clark.

I went hunting for them one afternoon.

It’s actually the wrong time of year to go hunting for this tree.  The best time would be in the late fall when its strange fruit is ripe and ready to fall.  Here are some pictures of the osage orange fruit:


It is, of course, not technically an orange.  What we’re looking at is actually a collection of wormy drupes, a multiple fruit, much like the blackberry or the mulberry is just a tight cluster of tiny fruits banded together around a single mass. This thing is hairy and sticky, sometimes with a milky liquid, and it sometimes floats, like a coconut. 

I’ll be back in the late fall to collect some.  It’s rumored to be an excellent cockroach repellent.  You’re supposed to leave it under your bed.

Why is it called an orange?  The fruit was originally called an apple, which is why its Latin name is Maclura pomifera, which means “apple-bearing.”  But don’t take that too seriously.  At a certain point of time, I think botanists referred to all globular fruit as apples.  Seriously.

When Meriweather Lewis first encountered it in St Louis, 1804, it went under the name osage apple.  The osage came from the name of the Osage Indians that dwelled in the tree’s original native range of southern Arkansas, Oklahoma and north Texas.

Osage Warriors, including Chief Bacon Rind
Black Dog of the Osage Tribe

The Osage Indians were a tribe a fierce warriors known for their archery skills, due in large part to living so close within this tree’s small native range.  It turns out the wood from these trees make excellent bows.  The English will say that the yew tree makes the greatest bows and they have the Robin Hood legends to back that claim, but here on Turtle Island, a bow made of osage orange wood is second to none.  Osage orange bows were traded among the Plains tribes for the price of a horse and a blanket.

Back in the late 1700s, there was guy named Peter Choteau who lived for a while among the Osage Indians and he brought back specimens of this tree to St Louis.  He gave some to Lewis and Clark, as they were passing through, who sent it back east to Thomas Jefferson.  Jefferson gave them to Bernard McMahon, known as “America’s pioneer nurseryman,” who planted them here in Philadelphia, where they stand today.

They’re pretty easy to find, once you’re in the graveyard.

It’s a fascinating tree and these are even more fascinating because they were given the freedom to grow so tall and wild.  



Back in the pioneer days, these trees were planted and trimmed to form hedges.  This was before the invention of barbed wire.  Farmers and homesteaders used this tree as a living fence. 

It’s actually perfect for that purpose.  It usually grows in thickets, with gnarled twisted branches, and it has short, sharp thorns on its branches.  According to the early pioneers of the Great Plains, a good osage orange hedge is grown horse-high and hog-tight.  And pioneer boys used the fruit as a ball for their games.

I’ll be back for the fruit in late September.  I won’t be able to eat it.  It’s not edible.  No modern animal really eats it.  Popular science believes that these osage oranges were once eaten by prehistoric beasts like the giant sloth or the mammoth or the gomphothere, which was some kind of North American elephant.  I look these things up.

What will I use it for? 

I want to test its reputation for being a good cockroach repellent.  Let’s just say I have a problem right now with cockroaches. 

I also think that they’ll make a good conversation piece, if I meet the right lady, that is.

But really, I just want them.  In my house.  In my hands.  This is, after all, history.  It's time travel.  I mean, how often can I get a living souvenir from the Lewis and Clark expedition?  Someday, I might be able to take something off Stuart Roosa’s Moon Tree sycamore too, but that tree will take a few years to really grow something memorable and collectible.

By this October, I could be sleeping above one of Lewis and Clark’s osage apples – take that, you cockroaches.  Or I could be playing catch, playing ball with a souvenir from one of the greatest adventures of all time by two of the most dauntless, reckless and daring pioneers that ever set foot on Turtle Island.

Let’s face it.  I’ll never have an adventure like Lewis and Clark’s, and I’ll never even come close to matching Stuart Roosa’s mileage, but you know what? 

Sometimes distance shouldn’t be measured in miles.  Time.  Days, moons, seasons, years, the Wheel - time is also a distance.  And time itself can be its own reckless, death-defying adventure.

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