The Tonkawa Indians, the people who lived in this land before the Anglos moved in, had a use for every plant. The buffalo gourd--a sprawling annual that looks like a huge cucumber vine and bears round green gourds about the size of a tennis ball--was one of their most versatile resources. I took this photo yesterday morning, out with the dogs. Seeing the vine again this spring is like seeing an old friend--it grows in only one place at Meadow Knoll. It's blooming just now, but also bearing fruit, and the ground is littered with the dried husks of fruits from previous years, but the seeds have been carried off by the mice and voles. Last year, I turned over a rock and found a cache of them, carefully hoarded against a future famine. I replaced the rock carefully. I wouldn't want some giant intruder raiding my pantry.
Daniel Moerman's massive reference book, Native American Ethnobotany, shows that at least two dozen tribes used the plant's root, vine, flower, and fruit for food (but only when the fruit was very young, before it got bitter), dyes, medicines, rattles, ladles, lashings, soaps, shampoo, insecticide, and toys. Medicinally, it was used to treat sores, venereal disease, parasites, toothache, and a variety of other ills. I've even read that the Indian moms, wanting to wean their babies, would smear the bitter juice on their breasts so that the child couldn't nurse. If I were a Tonkawa baby, I'd call that a dirty trick, but if I were a Tonkawa mother, I'm sure I'd see the wisdom in it. An versatile plant, put to so many uses, by wonderfully resourceful humans.
Writing Notes. Moving forward with Applebeck Orchard, but slowly. I'm not sure whether it's the distractions (doing some online promotion right now with book clubs and planning next year's book tour) or just that I'm not yet far enough into the book to be fully focussed on it. I have 18k words (starting the fourth chapter), and the storyline, which I sort of know but not quite, is just beginning to emerge. For me, the interest in these Cottage Tales is not the "mystery," which is usually pretty slight, but the settings and the people/animal characters. Most readers seem to feel the same way, judging from reviews and emails. The central conflict in this book--the narrative that pulls and pushes the story forward--is a controversy over the closing of a public footpath, which in those days would have been a big deal, sort of like closing the Town Lake Hike-and-Bike Trail in Austin. Since this isn't a very familiar concept to readers, I have to do quite a bit of set-up for it, without boring them to death with details. A difficult balance to strike.
Reading note. Everything happens in life. Some of what happens is terrible. We know this is true because it has always been true. But there is another truth available, an inexplicable and sometimes crazy truth that is no less compelling. The living of a life, day by day and moment by moment, is also wild with joy.--Reeve Lindbergh, Forward from Here [my review of this book is currently in the works]