corkscrew up toward the light
bearing prickly pods
We've been paddling through the deep gorge of the Oneota River, bracketed by steep stone bluffs and dense forest. Now we've come to a little stretch that is tree free and John signals to pull over. He says he wants to see what's up there. He gets out and slowly climbs to the top of the high, vertical bank, pushing through tall clumps of weeds entangled with vines. Dan and I wait in the other canoe. It's nice to just sit in the sun and gaze at one small patch of wild vegetation without moving or doing anything. I notice things I wouldn't see even at the slow pace we've been keeping on the river. "What are those yellow flowers?" Dan wants to know. "Rosin weed," I reply, breaking one off so he can feel the prickly stem and leaves and the gummy resin. The blossoms, which look like little sunflowers, attract butterflies, and birds flock to the seeds. The plants grow in clumps up to 6 feet high and prefer dry, open areas like the top of this sunny bank. Coiled around the rosin weed is a vine with star-shaped leaves, equally intent on reaching up to the sun. We both stare in amazement at the spiky green pods hanging from the vine. "What's that?" Dan asks. "It looks like a prickly cucumber." Indeed, prickly cucumber is one of its common names, as well as wild cucumber and creeping jenny. Actually a member of the gourd family, its genus name, Echinocystis, is derived from the Greek words echinos, "hedgehog," and kustis, "bladder." I pull one of the ovoid pods down for closer inspection. The prickles bend rather than penetrate. Inside, there are four flat brown seeds. The vine is also called squirting cucumber because the dry fruit flings the seeds into the air when it breaks open. I would like to witness that, but these pods are still green and growing. John clambers back down from his expedition to the top of the bank. "What's up there?" I ask. "A field." We've seen lots of fields. Now it's time to return to the ever-changing panorama of the river.