Catalogue – Elizabeth Merriam

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“there, in the far corner of the yard, you, my rose,
lovely for nothing, lonely for no one,
stunning the afternoon
with your single flower ablaze.
I left that place, I let the rain
meditate on the brilliance of one blossom
quivering in the beginning downpour”
~Li-Young Lee

I.

Scientific Name:
           Division:  Magnoliophyta
Family:  Rosaceae
           Genus:  Rosa L.
           Species:  Rosa abyssinica R. Br. ex Lindl
           Subclass:  Rosidae

Veins suspended in papery sheaths, petals once yellow now translucent like a grandmother’s skin. Stems faded to dull hues, saturation fading with each day. The arrangement of each leaf, each petal, so delicately molded behind the layers of plastic frame. Like a museum of priceless artifacts or a warehouse of birth certificates for plants, an herbarium catalogues each name, the essence of each flower. Even today, the number of plant species in existence is unclear. The first consolidated catalogue of global plants was completed only recently in 2010. Termed the “Plant List,” the catalogue distinguishes between accepted names for each plant and the overlap between synonyms for the same plant. The Plant List currently catalogues over 1 million plant species. However, only 350,000 of these names are accepted, while 240,000 of the names are being debated as accepted names or merely as a synonym for the accepted name of a plant. It is estimated that around 1 in 5, or 20 percent, of all plant species are threatened with extinction.

Determiner:

To officially document an herbarium specimen, one must utilize a plant press. This consists of a wooden frame, corrugated cardboard ventilators, blotter paper, and folded paper. The wooden frame provides rigidity to protect the delicate structure of the leaf or flower, while the ventilators allow air to flow through the press. The blotter paper absorbs moisture while the folded paper seals the plant inside. The purpose of a plant press is to extract moisture in the shortest period of time to preserve the color of the plant, and also to prepare the plant for two-dimensional mounting in the acid-free environment of herbarium paper for long-term storage. In order to fit the plant onto the standard herbarium sheet, the specimen should, when pressed flat, fit within the 11 inch by 16 inch frame. The best specimen for cataloguing should consist of a stem with attached leaves and flowers. When closed, the plant press should be bound with straps and screws until the specimen has been sufficiently flattened and dried. For herbaceous plants, the roots should also be included. For extremely large trees, one should include the pieces that best illustrate the characteristics of the plant.

Location:

I once pressed a pink geranium, its delicate blossoms and stems tucked between the pages of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. For days the book was weighted, pressed under a pile of heavy anthologies until the flower was flat. I taped it into my journal. Years later, I found the journal and the page with the geranium with the inscription underneath:  “from mom’s garden.”

Plant Habitat:

When mounting the specimens within the herbarium frame, one must affix the plant and label to a heavy sheet of paper for support and maximum storage duration. While arranging the specimen, one should position the leaves and flowers for maximum observation of the reproductive features and variation, with both sides of the leaves visible. Plants are positioned in a life-like arrangement, with flowers at the top of the page and roots at the bottom. Leave adequate space for the annotation label and specimen label as you use gummed linen strips and linen thread to glue or stitch the specimen to the paper.

Frequency:

The Kew Royal Botanical Gardens in the United Kingdom contains an Herbarium, a growing collection of 350,000 species. It also contains a spirit collection, a special herbarium catalogue used to store fragile plants that would lose the three-dimensional shape once pressed, specifically orchid flowers.

 

Plant Description:

Describe the hues of the plant and its flowers, as they will fade over time. Describe the fragrance, both of the flower and the crushed leaf, leaf orientation, and other characteristics that will be lost after drying.

Collector Name:

Emily Dickinson created a personal herbarium which catalogued over 400 plant species native the Massachusetts community, each specimen carefully placed and labeled with their Latin names. She wrote, “I am very busy picking up stems and stamens as the hollyhocks leave their clothes around.”

Collection Number:

Within the Kew Herbarium, the specimens are arranged by a systematic structure in the cupboards by family, region, genus, and species. Within minutes, anyone can find a particular species. The specimens are arranged to reflect affinities and evolutionary relationships, rather than alphabetically.

Date of Collection:

I opened to the entry labeled “November 15, 2009. Cookie Henson’s yard.” Each leaf still retained the fiery hues of autumn, even though their brittle bodies were cracking around the edges of the tape, the corners curling away from the paper. As a young girl, I would clean Cookie’s house when she no longer had the energy to stand. Her home was filled with horse decor–blankets with wild horses stitched on them, old horse puzzles glued together and framed as wall art, decorative horse plates. When the chemo treatments increased, she needed a wheelchair. Her husband, Jay, built her a wheelchair ramp and I painted it white. Once, I drove her to a quilt show at the fair. I wheeled her up and down the endless aisles of quilts, the fabric swaying gently with the wind. It was autumn when, at the age of 59, Cookie passed away from cancer. I brushed my fingers across the pressed leaves, and they crumbled to dust.

II.

Taxidermy

Noun.

  • The art of preparing, stuffing, and mounting the skins of animals with a lifelike effect. From the Greek taxis, meaning movement, and derma, meaning skin.
  • With an increased demand for leather, taxidermy began in England in the early 19th Victorians were fascinated with “curiosities,” creatures that had deformed features such as an extra leg or head.
  • Since the correct anatomical form of an animal was a lesser concern, the earliest taxidermy mounts were stuffed with rags and sawdust, creating misshapen and deformed figures. Later, taxidermists created the animal form by winding rope and string around a structure, gluing it into a semi-realistic form.
  • The first American taxidermy competition took place in 1880. William Hornaday was the winner with his exhibit A Fight in the Tree Tops, which depicted two male Bornean orangutans fighting over a female. This scene inspired other taxidermists to recreate natural scenes.
  • In taxidermy, a specimen refers to the exact recreation of the entire animal in the wild, while a trophy is a mounted head on a plaque.
  • Scientific taxidermists create study skins, which are not stretched across a recreated form but are instead stretched between a wooden frame for scientific observation. Taxidermists must use neutral pH unbuffered blotter paper to line the drawers of a study skin in order to preserve the longevity and beauty of the hide, scales, or feathers.
  • The modern practice of taxidermy requires skills in many crafts, including carpentry, tanning, woodworking, molding, and casting. It also requires artistic talent, including painting, sculpting, and drawing. For example, the only natural elements on an elk mount are the antlers and hide, while the rest of the animal is recreated with man-made materials to appear lifelike. The eyes are made of glass, the eyelids of clay, while epoxy or wax substitutes for the soft tissue of the nose and mouth. The skeletal and muscular form of the animal is sculpted and carved from polyurethane foam.
  • Today, many mounts, specifically saltwater fish, are completely recreated from man-made materials. With detailed photos and measurements, catch-and-release anglers can release fish unharmed and still have a life-size replica of their trophy.
  • Taxidermists attempt to place their mounts in lifelike poses, incorporating recreated, natural scenery to display the mounts upon. For example, a taxidermist might recreate a bobcat preparing to leap down from a craggy rock or a grizzly bear on its hind legs, snarling in an aggressive pose. The mission of the taxidermist is to preserve the movement and beauty of the animal, either for scientific study or aesthetic pleasure.
  • Each year, Zovi would molt. He was our first pet as a married couple, a Green-Cheeked Conure, a member of the parrot family. Each year, the jewel hues of his feathers–red, green, blue–would fall to the bottom of his cage, and I would pick  up the individual feathers, slipping them into a Ziploc bag. After three years of his annual molting, the bag was filled to bursting. It was October 7, 2015 when he was laid to rest in the tin box. Now, the frame containing his feathers adorns the wall with glittering hues.

III.

According to the January 2016 Israeli Statistics and Demographics Report, Israel’s population has reached a record of 8,462,000 people. The Jewish population makes up 74.9% of the country at 6,335,000. Israel’s population also consists of 1,757,000 Arabs, making up 20.7% of the population. The remaining 4.4% or 370,000 people includes the “others,” defined as non-Arab Christians, Bahai, etc. These numbers do not include the 250,000 illegal foreign workers and the African migrants residing in Israel today. In the year 2013 Israel celebrated as they reached the symbolic number of 6 million—the approximate number of Jews who died in the Holocaust.
It took 65 years for the state of Israel to gain the number of Jewish people it lost in 5 years.

As you enter the Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum, the entrance will funnel down to an abrupt turn into a hallway of concrete, the cold walls slanted down in sharp triangles. You will feel the weight of the room upon you, and you must bear it. As you walk through the hallway (What choice do you have? There is no going back) you will first come upon a glass hole in the floor. Peer through the glass. Indeed, the rotting leather of old shoes will fill the entire case, downwards. Hundreds of shoes which heard the shouts, rested in a room full of empty clothes and silence.

Move down the hallway, turn into a smaller, darker room. There, you will see the propaganda posters of the Third Reich beside the photograph of the father, his young daughter clutched close to him as he shields her from the rifle aimed at him by the Nazi soldier. Hear the voices on the screens, grandfathers and grandmothers now, they once endured the Holocaust as children. The voices will ring, the walls will bear down upon you until the moment you step into the large room, The Hall of Names. The walls will lift from you, your eyes cast upwards in the dome shaped room, the ceiling covered with the faces of the victims of the Holocaust, faces captured in moments of peace, eyes filled with joy. The black walls will come into focus as you see the filing cabinets, each filled with pages and pages of collected information, one page stored for each Jewish Holocaust victim. The filing cabinets will multiply upwards, more pages than you can imagine filling that space. As you move inwards, a glass wall will stop you from falling into the black, seemingly boundless lake of water below you. The eyes above, the dark water below, motionless, reflecting the eyes of joy.

You will walk around the pool, out the other side, and step onto the wide balcony, the floor jutting out above the trees, the walls flung wide so that all you can see are the Israeli hills, olive groves, and far flung blue sky. The weight will fly out over those fields, will draw you out and above.

Move outside. The sunshine will fill you, the warm breezes wash over you as you walk along The Avenue of the Righteous Among the Nations. You will see young trees bearing the names of non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.

Grenda Anna (1920-2003)

Klimek Maria (1921-?)

Rozen Zofia (1917-1980)

Glazer Zofia (1915-2007)

The branches will sway, the leaves fluttering.

As you walk forward, you will find a small door in the side of the stone wall, inscribed with a golden plaque that reads Children’s Memorial. Enter here.

You will stand in utter darkness, and as your eyes adjust, once again find yourself in a dome structure engulfed in darkness but for the single candle on a pedestal in the center of the room, flickering. You must grip the railing to find your way around the edges of the room until the walls and ceiling erupt in tiny flames, their mirrored surfaces catching the small light of the candle and multiplying it into eternity. Each flame flickers silently. Then you will hear the soft voice of a woman, gently speaking their names.

Irena Cohen. Age 5.

Herman Tetelbaum, Age 10.

Schmuel Spitzer, Age 7.

Golde Kohn, Age 3.

Name after name will sweep over you, through the secret places of the silent room. The candle will flicker, endlessly. Then you will find yourself stepping out a door, the sunlight overflowing, blinding.

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2 thoughts on “Catalogue – Elizabeth Merriam

  1. Brenda Wood

    Death. Preservation. Memories. I found it very thought-provoking. A piece that made me go back during the reading to re-read parts. I always look for connections as I read. I found them. Thank you Elizabeth.

    Reply

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