Gravel roads are hard on tires, and yesterday morning before setting out on my 100-mile route I drove to a tire shop which is located on a bench just above the Mississippi floodplain. I needed to buy a new tire and have it mounted.
The shop is snuggled up against a seventy-foot limestone bluff, a sheer cliff with a smattering of neglected vegetation down at the base. I knew I’d have to wait a while, so I grabbed my camera and began to prowl around the area between the utilitarian steel buildings and the cliff. Of course, the shop has a waiting area with a coffee pot, snack machines, and magazines, but on such a beautiful fall morning it would be a shame to peruse a tattered and outdated copy of Time or Better Homes and Gardens rather than explore a bit!
It occurred to me that many years ago I had bought a tire at this place and, on a similar botanical foray, had found a colony of catnip thriving unnoticed. I like the appearance of catnip, with its downy gray-green leaves and its modest flower-spikes. I remembered digging a clump with the aid of a pocket knife and eventually using that start to establish a colony of the plant in our old Knox County place; I trust it is still growing there.
I slowly walked along the base of the cliff, inspecting the trees and other plants. Of course the ubiquitous Chinese ailanthus trees were growing there, a species always at home in neglected areas on this continent, a denizen of alleys and vacant lots. Native mulberry trees were holding their own, and the weedier asters and goldenrods contributed their modest flowers to the vegetative tapestry.
Aw, the catnip still survived in a few clumps after all of these years. While I had been living my life and buying tires elsewhere the colony of alien musky-smelling mint had quietly thrived and spread:
Do neighborhood alley cats congregate here in the wee hours of the morning to rub up against these plants?
It looked like the clump had been mowed or weed-whipped down to the ground at least once this year, as there were no remnants of flower-spikes visible. It is just possible the plant may bloom anew before the killing frosts arrive.
Then I noticed a scrubby crab-apple tree with a luxuriant vine using the branches as a trellis. They were hop vines, but the scaly fruiting strobiles had purple bracts! Most hops I see have fruiting clusters which change from green to tan as they ripen. This purple coloration was new to me. Quincy was once a beer-brewing town; could this vine be a descendant of some cultivated hop variety once grown in the area? The photo I got could be in better focus, but it was breezy and this was the best I could do:
The strobiles were getting ripe, and if they were squeezed or stroked a gummy aromatic resin would come off on my fingers. This reminded me of the female inflorescences of the marijuana plant, a close relative, which also exude a gummy resin, but a resin with quite different characteristics!
After taking the above photo my camera informed me with embarrassed dismay that the “Battery Is Exhausted!”. I took this to be a sign to go check on the progress with my tire. The guys inside were finishing up when I strolled in, attaching the lug-bolts with staccatto bursts of an air-wrench, and before long I was cruising down the road, bright but slanting rays of autumnal sunshine elevating my spirits.