The unseasonable warmth continues in my neck of the woods, with highs in the 50s forecast for the rest of the week. I just returned from a walk to run errands, two banks and the post office, exactly four miles round trip according to Google Earth. It feels good to be able to propel myself on these routine missions, for several rather obvious reasons. Why use the car, and burn fossil fuels, when I don’t need to?
Plus, I enjoy the walking. Of course I like walking in nature best, but any old walk will do: I’m easy. Fresh air, sunshine, interesting sights. SodaBoy used to mock me sometimes when I’d try to talk him into joining me in a prowl around the neighborhood. He loves hiking, but wants his walks to be somewhere interesting. Forced marches is the term he coined for my “boring walks” around the neighborhood. But I always find things of interest.
Today’s walk led me through Tall Tree Cemetery, then through campus. I passed a tombstone marked with a birth year of 1904, but no year of death had been added later. Is that person still alive? Or did the family move away and inter their loved one elsewhere? And in a small parking area near the biology building, I saw vanity plates on approximately 15% of the cars: CASTANEA, CATFOOT, and YBE NRML. There were zero customized plates in two larger parking areas by the engineering building and the gymnasium. This is obviously too small a sample size to tell us anything meaningful, but do biologists get customized license plates more often than other academics? See how it works? I can entertain myself endlessly with such minutia.
I chose my path so that I walked on Ginkgo Alley in both directions. Ginkgo Alley is my name (I’m sure the cemetery administrators use another, more official, designation) for a lane in the graveyard that is lined on both sides with majestic old ginkgo trees, the biggest I’ve ever seen. Ginkgo biloba trees are dioecious, and oddly enough, both male and female trees were planted along Ginkgo Alley. This is highly unusual. The male trees bear pollen cones, and the female trees produce ovules, which develop into seeds after pollination. The seeds have a fleshy, fruit-like covering, and look much like pale cherries or small apricots.
Ginkgo trees are often used in landscaping, and as urban street trees. They are considered extremely tolerant of salt and pollution, are disease and insect resistant, and can even withstand massive radiation. Although the seeds are attractive enough, female ginkgo trees are rarely planted, at least in the United States. I’ve heard that the planting of female trees is actually banned in some municipalities. The city of Boise went so far as to remove 26 female ginkgo trees, and replant them with male cultivars.
The seeds contain n-butanoic acid, which has a distinctly unpleasant odor, most often compared to rancid butter. Vomit is actually what comes to my mind: ginkgo “fruit” smells exactly like vomit. The smell is strong enough that walking down Ginkgo Alley in the fall, with the seeds littering the pavement and squishing underfoot, can trigger the gag reflex. Really, all you can do is just try to hold your breath, and walk faster. It’s that bad.
The calendar says it’s January now, so I thought the time was well enough past for stinkiness, and I like the ginkgo tree. It’s a living fossil, after all, and damn interesting, and pretty, too. So I walked Ginkgo Alley today. There were a few malodorous seeds still lying about. So to immerse myself in the moment, I stopped, knelt, tied my shoe, and inhaled deeply. Oh yeah, baby, I'm alive!