Posted by: Memorizing Nature | July 10, 2010

Tossed To the Bulrushes

Metal knocked on metal, which likely meant my horseshoe had hit the mark. Indeed, upon closer examination, the crescent nicely surrounded the spike. I was ahead in points for once, my spindly arms doing me proud.

Now I was overconfident. I pitched the next one with misguided gusto, and that hunk of rust soared into tall grass and bulrushes, landing soundlessly. We searched and searched, but the horseshoe was never found. The grasshoppers, I believed, took off with it. They were capable of such a theft, big as birds really.

Horseshoes: the only organized game I can recall playing at our red-bricked farmhouse, an antique dwelling belted by a lopsided porch. Isolated, simple, and cozy, this was a home easily remembered. In front, there blew a windmill, once creating energy but no longer – maybe sometime again? In the back yard was an old fort that groundhogs had taken over.

"The bulrush is a flower that doesn’t look like a flower. More like a suede hot dog on a stick." (Photo by E. Medline)

This was the place where I repeatedly and mistakenly stepped into cow patties on a neighbouring field, my Adidas forever marred.

My mother had long hair at the time. My father heated charcoal in the belly of a barbecue, a slow process back then.  

And all along the road grew bulrushes, as we called them, but you may know them as cattails. The bulrush is a flower that doesn’t look like a flower. More like a suede hot dog on a stick. With its ribbon leaves gracefully reaching, this is a proud plant stuck in a shallow bath. Where are the petals? The sausage-shaped portion is the female part of the flower (ironically), which eventually fluffs into pillow-like seed. The male section is an unnoticed tuft on top, shedding pollen. The plant’s roots are starchy, and their runners spread invasively under the ground, filtering dirty water. The bulrush is neither truly ugly nor astonishingly pretty, but it is distinct, modest, and poised.

"Where are the petals? The sausage-shaped portion is the female part of the flower (ironically), which eventually fluffs into pillow-like seed." (Photo by E. Medline)

Outside, deer flies chomped on our forearms, and inside houseflies died noisily in the windowsills. The stairs to the upper floor swung down after we pulled on a trap door. This stuffy second storey was where I breathed in the travels of Marco Polo. This is where I skipped through the funny stories of naturalist Gerald Durrell. Where I could hear families of mice scratching in the walls. Where I spent much of the time staring at the ceiling and wondering who I was. I still wonder this.

At a nearby creek, our family swam diagonally so the current wouldn’t sweep us downstream where rocks could cut knees. Sometimes my older brother and I would take back the fort. When bored, I drifted along the road, shoulders warm, absently admiring red-winged blackbirds alight on bulrushes. One year, I sprinkled sweet pea seeds on my designated piece of soil, and the eventual tendrils wrapped around my ankles, flinging me in the air. I landed safely. 

We are the places where we have lived. If not for the farmhouse, what would I be?




  1. Thanks for these beautiful descriptons of moments in time. I really enjoy reading them!

  2. I love your description of the bulrushes as suede hotdogs on sticks!

  3. Great photos, I love to read your post and how you describe those moments. Your a nice story teller, I like it.

  4. Great post. I laughed out loud at the “suede hotdogs on sticks” description. I’ve been following along and reading all. You taken some lovely pictures, too. Keep writing!

  5. THe “Suede hotdog on a stick” description brought a smile on my face!

  6. I love how you tucked the fact that bulrushes are excellent water purifiers into your tale. They are very invasive; I have them planted in my pond and I have to cut them back mercilessly or I would have no pond but a wetlands instead.

    They used to be an important food source for the native Americans, although I have never tried eating them.

    I am the mountains of Colorado, the Pacific Coast of America, and the Alaskan Interior transplanted to the Ozarks. No wonder I love rocks.

  7. Thanks, all, for your encouraging responses. After I wrote the first draft, my editor (i.e. husband) felt I hadn’t described the bulrushes enough. But I really had no additional material. At the time, we were loading groceries into our car and I noticed a stand of bulrushes nearby. So I ran over, did a re-examination, touched one, then realized it felt like suede. I ran back to the car and said, “Suede hot dog on a stick!” He believed “suede pogo” would be better, so we discussed the merits of each all the way home. (I won). In any case, this week I’m planning on making a major investment – a telephoto lens – to vary the species (flowers and insects are great, but have to keep the audience entertained . . . ) Hopefully, here come the birds, and especially, a chipmunk? Stay tuned.

  8. Elaine,

    Your vivid descriptions paint a beautiful picture and take me back to a simpler time. I could not read it without thinking about picnics, horseshoes, and trips to my grandparents farm. Thank you!


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