Vine n. 1. Any plant having a long, slender stem that trails or creeps on the ground or climbs by winding itself about a support or holding fast with tendrils or claspers. 2. the stem of any such plant. 3. a grape plant.
Washington is called the Evergreen State and that is certainly true in the western part of the state. Oh, I know that this nickname refers to the conifers, those trees which keep their leaves all year long. And we certainly do have an abundance of cedar, pine, fir, and hemlock. But I am thinking of the color green which we also have year-round. In other parts of the country when the heat of summer, then the cold winter weather, moves in, lawns dry up and turn brown. Not here. Although the growth of our grass slows during the rainy months, it remains bright green. Besides the conifers, the woods are filled with other evergreens such as rhododendrons, madrones, salal, evergreen huckleberries, and sword ferns, all of which remain green throughout the year. Mixed in with all this green, however, are the deciduous trees which do shed their leaves. And so we are granted a respite, if you will, from all this green during the winter months. Well, winter is over and we are now, one again, smothered in green.
I spent my childhood and early married years in Montana where there is a definite change of seasons. Living on the high plains in the central part of the state, I took for granted the fact that the countryside was vast and uncluttered. Whenever we drove outside of town, there it was - that huge sky, ringed by distant bluish mountains. Miles and miles of open space, with only scrubby grasses, sage, and ranches as far as you could see - until your eyes bumped into those far-off hills and mountains. It spoiled me for life...
My husband and I spent a few years in Colorado, Texas, and Idaho - always west of the Mississippi. I am western through and through. Those places each had their own kind of natural beauty and I am not sorry to have lived in any of them. Colorado had the mountains, Ponderosa Pines, and dry grassy undergrowth. Texas had the hill country, Live Oaks, and acres of wildflowers. Idaho had grassy hills, sagebrush, and ancient lava flows. All of them had hot, dry summers which turned brown.
I've now had 30+ years of "abrupt" change. GREEN change. Through our woods, there is a lovely vine which creeps through the other trees and shrubs and makes its presence known. But a vine is not always what it seems...
The Vine Maple (Acer circinatum) is so named because its slender, crooked trunks and long limbs sprawl across the understory of the conifer forest. It grows as a large, multi-stemmed shrub or as a small, single-stemmed tree, depending on its location and how much sunlight reaches it. It flourishes beneath the dark canopy on moist sites along the Northwest coast and on humid sites on the east slope of the Cascades. The Quinault people of the Olympic Peninsula referred to the vine maple as "basket tree" because they used its long, straight shoots for weaving baskets in which they carried clams and fish.
Clusters of small flowers with red and green parts appear, bringing a sharp contrast of color to the woods. In the fall, the leaves stand out as splotches of brilliant red, pink, orange or yellow, contributing considerable color to the somber, conifer-dominated landscape. Vine Maples are well worth getting to know.
And so, we are getting into the very green season here, which I dearly love. But I do still sometimes feel smothered and have the urge to "part the greenery" and view those beautiful miles and miles of uncluttered space. Spoiled for life, I am!