Mary Beth Writes


F is for Ferns, Fungi, Friends


I’ve been googling lots. I’m still wildly unprepared to talk about ferns or fungi, but I know more than I did last week and I guess that’s how we do this.

Ferns were among the first actual plants to show up on planet earth. Over a period of precisely several bazillion years algae crept out of the steamy hot tropical oceans and lakes that covered just about everything. You know how algae creeps, right? Have you seen the showers at a campground? Algae doesn’t wanna stay back there. Algae wants to move (on up to the east side).

After a couple of eons there were now masses of dead and alive algae everywhere, all locking in CO2 (one of the greenhouse gasses warming our planet now). This gathering and storing of CO2 v-e-r-y slowly caused our planet to cool. As the climate became less intense plants could evolve, plants which would grow fronds and leaves with which to absorb sunlight to facilitate photosynthesis. Boom, a mere 400-300 (or so) million year ago ferns were among the first plants to come to this party. We know this because of 400-300-million-year-old fossils with fern fronds in them. 

Ferns grow and move in two-step combo. They did this several million years ago and they do it now.

First, ferns spread by rhizomes which are those underground stems that spread to send up new plants. Anyone who has tried to keep ferns contained in just one part of a garden knows rhizomes on a personal basis.

Ferns do not reproduce by seeds that were produced by flowers (as do almost all other plants). Seeds inside flowers require bugs and animals to disseminate those seeds. When ferns first popped up on earth, there were no bugs or animals. Ferns propagate via spores under their fronds. Actually, those black dots are clumps of spores because individual spores are microscopic. (I didn’t know this so I had to tell you.) Ferns grow whenever conditions are right, so there isn’t a designated fern season.

Spores get water by sucking moisture (believe me, none of the scientific articles called this sucking, but you know what I mean) from the plant. At a certain point spores take in enough moisture so that pressure builds up in the now depleted water pipes in the frond, and that vacuum will eventually SHOOT the spore out into the world. I’ve seen flying spores but had no idea I was watching such a complicated process. I bought my kids a marshmallow gun once. You put the marshmallow in, pull back the plunger, let go, and the air shoots it out. Like that.

Carl Linnaeus was Swedish so I (great-granddaughter of eight Swedes) should mention that he was the first scientist to identify ferns as their own classification of plants by listing 15 kinds of ferns in 1753. Scientists now estimate there are more than 9000 kinds of ferns. That’s a Swede for you. Make a list. Start where you can. One step in front of the other. You will never finish the job but you will have done your part.

Ferns live on the margins of habitats and come in all sizes. Teeny ferns grow in rice paddies, and most other quiet watery surfaces, where they “fix” nitrogen. This is why traditional rice paddies don’t require added fertilizer. 

New Zealand and Norfolk Island, Australia have ferns that grow up to 65 feet tall and look like palm trees. 

You can eat just coming out of the ground fern fiddleheads in the spring. Sautee them with bacon or dried tomatoes if you are feeling it (Look up recipes to do this right). I like to just pick and eat them while standing in my garden. They taste like green exploding in your mouth.

So ferns don’t have seeds, they have those spores. A Finnish folktale says that anyone who finds the seed of a fern which blooms on Midsummer night can use that seed to travel invisibly to where eternally blazing will o' the wisps mark the spot of hidden treasure. Not kidding. If you are so smug as to think you know where to look for these treasures, you are wrong since those places are magically protected from non-fern-seed holders. Truly, one wonders how this tale evolved. And why so many folk tales are about things that don’t exist.

Next time I’m with grandkids, I am going to explain to them that ferns NEVER have flowers, and then ask them to draw a picture of what a fern flower would look like if they did exist.

Olden myths here in the US say a dried fern can be thrown into hot coals to exorcise evil spirits. Also, smoke from a burning fern will remove snakes and other unwelcome creatures.

Who wants to burn ferns near politicians who lie?

The universe is old beyond the scope of our imagination and nothing in it is standing still. What is it swirling towards? What’s the story here? We come from rock, water, heat, slime. Then there were ferns and 400 million later, there still are. What small and powerful splendor is going on here? What story are we part of? If our lives are only a smidgen of time, what are the most holy and beautiful ways to use our slivers of warmth, water, air, and the necessity to spin and whorl?


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Y is for Yellowstone


Back in February I asked you to give me topics to write about that would correspond to the alphabet. Sometimes several of you sent ideas for one letter and sometimes I wrote about all of them (I’s and S’s) Here we are at letter Y for which your suggestions are Yummy Food and Yawns. The word yawn absolutely makes me yawn; no way I could write about that - I would yawn for hours. I worked on Yummy Food but could only find a scolding voice about Americans eating too much sugar. Bah. True but not interesting.

So, I gave Y a go again. Y is for?

"I was Scott Simon's teller."


First of all - Thank you to those of you who came to the Wisconsin Writers Association zoom gala last night. I HAD received an email a week ago which said I would be reading my whole story. Cutting it in half while I was reading was awkward! It was still a happy event for me and the other writers. Thanks for being there! 

X is for Xeriscape


Xeriscape is pronounced ‘zeer-eh-scape’ and it means landscaping with little to no irrigated water. Readers in the west already know about this. Those of us who don’t live in arid or desert places need to wake up to the incredible resource that water is - then begin to accommodate ourselves to “water all around and beneath us all the time” is no longer our reality. Nor is it our right. We’ve got to get smarter and do better.

W is for Wonder


To whomever suggested Wonder - Thank You!  ‘Wonder’ has been bobbing in my mind like a frog in a pond.

However, I have FOUR suggestions from you guys for X - but I do not want to write four X essays. These are the suggestions:

1.) X signature substitution

2.) xylophone on a string pulled by a toddler

3.) xenophobia

4.) Xmas. 

If you have an opinion respond with the one you would like me to attempt. I will choose whichever X gets the most comments.

There will be no gerrymandering in this election.



Grownups Noticing Their Lives


Most of you know about my former weird and lovely job of coordinating an employability skills program for Huber-qualified inmates in the Racine County Jail (that’s a mouthful). Early on I realized that most of the people I would work with were people with 1.) huge addiction problems, and 2.) underlying and over-the-top and to-the-side just lying around mental health issues.

V is for Vocabulary


For those who are new here - This year I am writing about topics, in alphabetical order, that were suggested to me by readers. Sometimes this is hard! 


My cousin-in-law Dave has some powerfully thorough avocations (for fun and profit he earned a PhD in biochemistry; you will notice this in his list). This year, among other pursuits, he has been collecting words which have appeared in our culture since 1945, which was the year he also appeared in our culture.

Tag Cloud

9/11 17 minutes 500 Words A-Z AARPtaxes AAUW abortion Acadia accident Accountable Advent aging Alaska anniversary antibiotics antlers apples appointments Arrows art Ashland August Augustine aunts baby Badlands balance Baldwin Barbara Barkskins Beauty Becky Becoming Esther Berry birthday bistro BLM Blue BookReport books boy scout Bread BrokenDays BuyAngry Cabeza de Vaca Cahokia calendars Canada canoe cat romance cats cello Chicago China Choosing Christmas cilantro Cinnabuns circus climate change clouds Clowns clutter Colonialism comet ComfortZone CommonSense community consumerism Cops Corvid-19 Courage Covid-19 Crazy creditreport creosote CrimeShows danger DarkRiver death Debate December DecisionFatigue decluttering democracy dentist depression Destination Today Detroit Didion disasterprep dogs dollhouse Dreams Duty Easter eBay Echoes Eclipse election EmilyDickinson eschatology Esquipulas exit polls eyes Fable FairTrade family farmer Fata Morgana ferns firealarm Fitness Five Flatbread Flexible flu Food Pantry Fort de Chartres frame Franc FrancGarcia friends frugal FrugalHacks Frugality frustration Ft.Ticonderoga fungi fusion Galena Gannets Garden GarfieldParkConservatory Gaspe genius geode GeorgeFloyd gerrymandering ghosts gifts girls GNTL gorgons goulash GovernorThompsonStatePark Graduation grandkids granola groceries Guatemala gum guns Hair happiness HaveYouEver? hawks healthcare Healthinsurance hearings heart heaven HelleKBerry heroes hike History home HomeRepair Honduras Hope HowCrowGotOutofJail humor hurricane Ice Cream idiosyncrasy igloos impeachment Innkeeper Instincts integrity InternetPrivacy Interview InviteMe2Speak James Baldwin Jan 6 Janus jewelry JoyceAndrews Judy JulianofNorwich Jump justice Karen kites ladder Lady Lamb LangstonHuges LaphamPeak laundry LeeLeeMcKnight lemming Len Light Lincoln Little Women LockedOut Loki loneliness LouisArmstrong Love Ludington Macaw macho Manitoulin MargaretFuller Maria Hamilton Marquette marriage Marsden Hartley masks Mayan MayaWorks meme Memories men Middlemarch MilesWallyDiego MindfulChickens Mistakes MLK moon Mother MothersDay mounds mouser movies museums must-haves Mustapha NAMI Nancy Drew Newfoundland New Mexico New York City Nomadland nope observation OBUUC Ocotillo OnaJudge ordinary OscarRomero osprey Outside oximeter Parade mayhem PastorBettyRendon Paul Hessert PDQ Penny persimmon photos Pi Pies pineapples poetry Preaching privacy procrastination Protest QE2 Quern quest Questions Rabbit holes racism reading recipe recipes recommendations Remember RepresentationMatters Reruns responsetoKapenga Retirement rhubarb Ricky rime RitesofPassage romance Rosemary Ruether Roses Roti Ruth SamaritanWoman Sanctuary Sandhillcranes Santuario de Chimayo SaraKurtz SaraRodriguez satellites ScottSimon sculpture Seasons Sermon ServantsoftheQuest sewing Shepherd Shontay ShortStory shoulder sick sickness Slower snow Social Security SofritoBandito solstice South Dakota SpaceShuttle spirituality spring square feet staining stars stele Stereotypes stories StoryStarts stream monitoring stress Survival swim Talent taxes teenager thankgsgiving Thanksgiving TheBridge TheMaid ThePerpetualYou therapy ThreeBillBoards Three Thing ThreeThings Three Things TidalBore TimeBeing toddler Tom tortillas Trains travel Traveler Tubing turtle Twilight Bark Tyrone Ukraine Ulysses Grant Umbrella UnrelatedObservations Up North urgency vacation vaccine Valentines vanilla Vietnam vision VivianWokeUpDrowning Vocabulary vole volunteer WalkingAndSeeing Wampanaog war WarsanShire weather weaving Webs wedding whines WhyAttendChurch Wiley Willa WillaCather Wisteria Won! Wonder words Xeriscape Yellowstone
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