cow down
cow down

cow down

by Lynn R. Miller of Singing Horse Ranch

What does it mean when we admonish others and ourselves, when we insist?

“Don’t let your imagination get the best of you.”
“Hold to what you know to be true.”
“Don’t beat yourself up.”
“Go back to what works.”

My guess is that these clichés actually work to hold us in check, to require we defer to society’s web of character flaws; starting with the debilitating culture-wide urge to take everything and anything for granted, the good, the bad, the ordinary and the ridiculous.

On the imagination front, context is everything. Is it a case of the imagination making a difficulty into a nightmare, a fright into a terror, a chore into a chore, a piece of luck into an act of God, an embrace into love? Yes, but also know it for the that good it is, from whence it comes, to what aim. Imagination is ours. Imagination is also what keeps inquiry, positivity, outlook, gumption and humility in our tool bag. Imagination draws and paints the target for us.

It was time for me to start writing what might become an editorial/ essay for this issue of the Journal – and oddly, this time ‘round, I found I had no appetite. Kristi said, “Don’t worry about it. It will come to you later.” She was right. She is right.

Eighteen years old, living alone in San Francisco’s Russian district and attending the SF Art Institute in 1965, I discovered a deep love of coffee. But no. Actually, I had the clearest sense of having not ‘discovered’ but having ‘recovered’ a couple of simple things which whispered ‘all will be okay.’ Because, I apparently was, (half breed that I am) like an after-market CV joint, zerked, lube-able. With good coffee, the energizer grease, I could push ahead.

Now, almost seventy years later, I’m remembering that this business about coffee and the cup, and other light-duty moments, triggered a haunting sense that I was re-remembering things from before my time, before this life.

These days, as repeats of challenging experiences trigger anxiety and discomfort, my rascal brain wonders if I could be building fresh powerful memories that might pop up for a different me, in a new incarnation, lifetimes ahead. Maybe I am building a distant individual future? Maybe ten to fifty to a hundred years from now someone will have the intense feeling they have been sitting, night after late cold night, with a suffering cow, just as we were. Maybe they, unknowing, will be reaching back to us now?

Oddest of thoughts, and coming as it does from those two things, coffee and the preferred cup. The cup had to be a thick-walled clay or porcelain ‘diner-style’ cup. The sort that said ‘you have to pick me up with deliberation.’ It weighed something, and it did not want to tip over, and it held the heat, and it made the best coffee taste better yet. Now, almost sixty years later, I always cycle back around to these/those cups and to good regular strong coffee. I know now it is a silly marker. And perhaps even a first sign of weakness. I know that, just as this simple thing ‘marks’ me, other people back then were marked by other affecting, reassuring and ritualistic things; tea in cup and saucer, water from a spring, eyes recording the sunrise every morning, drying herbs hanging in the kitchen windows, trays of grapes drying on the roof, motherhood in spring, the patter of a mother tongue in the background, so many other things…

When I was six, seven, eight years old our parents would shoe-horn we five siblings into the back of their sedan and then drive thirty miles from Buena Park, on the weekends, to visit with our Puerto Rican relatives in Pico Rivera. It seemed like we did this every weekend for a hundred, hundred years, and that it was always hot. It seemed that my brothers were always being jerks, and that my sister got preferential treatment. And I remember longing for my father to say, finally, “We are here, everybody out, and behave yourselves.” And we’d scream and push, and wiggle. And my mother would order “¡Silencio, cayate, Ave Maria, calmate!”

And then this ritual started to slow time down even further, way down. It got to where 30 miles through Los Angeles on the California Interstate highway was the slow that seemed to be actually going backwards. And, because the first time he heard certain words from us my father got such a kick out of it, we just had to repeat them whenever the time seemed right… “Are we here yet?” It went from being a frustrated question to a whining wail to a travel song. On hot days that ‘song’ had an odor.

Unlike the coffee and the cup, this and these commuting times were experiences which had absolutely zero past or history about them. This was something born in and of those moments.

How do these things connect, for me? I don’t know, not the fact of it anyway. I do have a clear sense of my mind evidencing itself like a Lattice Leaf. A far more interesting and effective functioning design than computer microchips. The Lattice Leaf plant of Madagascar says to my eye and my soul that fortunately the human species still has a heck of a long way to evolve before it might join the staggering beauty and effectiveness promised by so much of nature’s fully evolved interior design.

And evolution? It’s not a straight line forward, you know. Young people, fighting their world of cloying loneliness, want to believe that the pseudo ‘magic-realism’ of fantasy comics, fed as it is by corporate-engendered artificial intelligence and computer generated illustration, offers them portals to a frighteous future where so much is thrill, opiate and stagnation. We seniors know that sometimes taking steps back with eyes open CAN have us join, even rejoin, a living future.

Today, I wear a black-dial, work-scratched Timex wrist watch with a worn leather band. Gift from my understanding wife. The numbers and hands are soft-white. Occasionally I will be aware at the exact moment in the morning when my watch is aligning to perfection, the moment of straight up and down, the moment of plumb, the moment of balance and ‘justification,’ six o’clock. It always brings a calm smile to my face as if its a bridge and a marker. An arrival, it says ‘we are here, yet’ and just like the diner cup full of honeyed black coffee it says to me all is as it should be.

And then the big hand moves…

cow down

I was at the office, half hour or more from our ranch, when I got the call from Kristi. “Heifer lost her calf and is laying on her side unable to get up.” By the time I got home it was dusk, the sun had set, but just enough light remained for us to drive further, half mile from the house, to the struggling second-calf heifer. She lay on her side, eyes wide, slightly bloated, rear legs straight out and motionless. Dreaded signs. With two ropes we gently pulled her pairs of legs up and over, rolling the body with the hope that she might end in a sitting position with head up. There was also that unreasonable prayer/wish that she might wrestle herself up to at least attempt to stand and thereby ‘wake up’ those back legs. But she did neither. As we rolled her she just replaced one side for the other, and lay flat. We rigged a third rope with the hopes that as we slowly rolled her we might ‘hold’ her seated with head up, hold her until she regained her equilibrium. Three careful, patient tries with convoluted geometry and we did it.

We’ve been at our small enterprise of mixed crop and livestock farming for decades. We have experienced the sorrowful frustrations of problematic calving, lambing, incubation, hatching, foaling. In the distant past, before society’s unconscionable demands morphed what most people know to be professions as ‘callings’ into dead-eyed jobs overseen by accounting, we had long-standing close relations with willing dedicated veterinarians and rural wizards who helped us to navigate our livestock health difficulties.

Today, in most rural regions, for some farmers it is nigh on impossible to find a veterinarian that will travel a distance into remote settings to work on situations deemed impossible and of little or no return. Over the last twenty years that has been the case for us. If a situation with an animal calls for professional help we know ahead of time that we must find a way to get the animal to the veterinary clinic, with an appointment, in the daytime, during working hours. With large livestock that is often not workable. But these days, when it comes to trained professional help, there is absolutely no option… except for we amateurs of long tooth to try to be ready for any eventuality.

Ready, in this case, with the right knowledge and meds. It took only a few minutes to come to the somewhat educated suspicion that the heifer had a momentary paralysis from the birthing trauma aggravated by being down for too long. We needed some help and one of our first choices was the drug Banamine, but we remembered that we had used the last of our supply of this muscle relaxant for a down horse and had been unable to restock. The veterinary clinics throughout our region had strict new policies not to allow Banamine, and other veterinary drugs, out to farmers unless they have the livestock in question diagnosed in person by their vet. Policy is understandable. But there was no way for us to safely move this heifer an hour and a half over rough roads to a clinic. She couldn’t get up.

This situation with restrictions on access to meds did not happen over night. It took a while for insurance companies, accountants, and lawyers to impress upon veterinarians and indeed anyone in health care, that the name of the game is now to avoid liability at all costs. Another example of society eating its own to maintain the ‘wreak-us’ quo?

Long ago, we discovered these ‘truths’ (sic) to be self-indicting and worthy of our disdain and separation. We came to our personal conclusion that the world, in its rush towards this second zerk-less Dark Age, wanted compliance regardless of procedural insolvency. That’s a good and bad thing, our choice – we get to decide which.

It means each of us has to figure out how to proceed on our own. We chose to figure out by learning. We learned from more than half century of patient observations and careful choices that health in the end starts with health in the beginning and runs with health throughout.

Once the heifer was sitting up we assessed her general condition while placing a shallow tub of fresh water in front of her. She drank it dry three times, all the while shaking and white-eyed. There were lots of tell tale signs that she was in shock. As I placed the dead calf in the back of the pickup truck she ignored me completely. Kristi gave her some alfalfa hay, which she ate casually as she twitched and shook. Aside from her back legs being straight, stiff and unresponsive, she seemed ok. The shock slowly subsided and she ate more vigorously. The concerns were for nerve damage, pelvic trauma, and milk fever. We took turns going after medicines, water, hay and bedding materials. Darkness and painful freezing temperature came quickly. But we hung out for several hours. It was that eerie quiet of a cold winter’s moonless night when the fog waited in the tree branches unsure if it would be called upon to offer false blanket.

This second calf heifer, having been born and living all of her life on our organic fields, had enjoyed, to this point, exceptional good health. This went into the equation as we decided that she was definitely worth whatever effort it took to give her a chance to live.

We were in a far corner of an open field, visible in daylight by binoculars from the kitchen window. She had wandered off half a mile from the herd to have her calf in privacy, leaving the others in the nearby sheltering woodlot. It meant there was no competition for the hay we gave the heifer, no others to stir up the anxieties and add to the manuring. It was just Kristi and I watching and waiting. We wanted to be handy if she rolled over on her side again. We needed to keep her head up. We turned off the flashlights and headlights to calm the wait. Times like these, useful as it is, light can still be very loud.

cow down

Light is various. There is the light that leaks from behind with a weakness that says we are fading. There is the delicious sun-light which shakes the leaves and moves the fog and lifts birds; it’s not wind – it is light, far quicker and gentler than wind. There is that horrendous phenom light which blinds us as an oncoming-oncoming – a train in a tunnel, a semi truck approaching in a blizzard, an emergency room flood light, a deadly fire blasting out windows, the light of a mob screaming for blood and/ or fear. And there is the silent light that is an illusive sometimes pervasive sometimes gone light which identifies where we have been before the time has past. But know that the best and worst of ‘light’ is never who we are or who we might be. It is rather a fourth dimension clothier, it illumines as it dresses, it wants you to think it works for you but it does not – unless, as an artist might, you find yourself working to capture that light, hold it in a bottle, portray it on a canvas, translate it to black and white and caress it with exposure until it might share with others what you saw in that fleeting moment. Light is akin to a feral animal which ‘might’ be taught to assist us but which is forever hiding behind the grossly simplistic physics of harnessed electricity hoping that we will follow that collared dead-end trail and leave purest light to its essential eternal flight.

Sunlight is nature in love. Sunlight comes from destruction and creates life as it passes through the xylophone of the cosmos while, by reflection, sending messages backward and forward in time and in so doing magnetizing everything. Sunlight is what nature told farmers they needed to patiently prepare for. Prepare for the daylight as it will swell seeds to bursting, it will draw growth from the very ground, it will mix all manner of elements into powerful agents of growth which in turn will breed forward and breath forward new life.

Shake off the wandering thoughts. Back to the task at hand. We are working to stay in attendance with this struggling young cow. And whatever shape the job takes, we are on our own here. I repeat: It means each of us has to figure out how to proceed on our own. Repeating yet again, I remind myself as I shiver: we chose and choose to figure out by learning. We learned from more than half century of patient observations and careful choices that health in the end starts with health in the beginning and runs with health throughout.

She stirs and wrestles her shoulders as though to lift herself up, but the back end doesn’t respond, and in fatigue she falls over on her side again. We return to her with the ropes and the procedure we figured out. I am so very thankful that the earlier two feet of snow cover had melted off before she calved. Its February and we could have another snow at anytime, but for now we have frozen ground. She’s back sitting up again and we draw straws to decide who goes back to the house for a nap while the other of us sits in attendance. Neither of us wants to go, dreary-eyed and exhausted as we are. But experience tells us this is the time to try to organize a plan of attendance. I know how fortunate this heifer is that both Kristi and I are here and determined to give her every chance. I know that there is no way that I, old man that I am, could do this alone.

So very often those of casual interest, casual concern, insist “you are not alone.” I suspect what they want to say instead is, “We are tired of your grief, your sadness, your depression, your worry. Can you put it aside for a minute and allow us to pretend to carry that weight? You know, just ‘make believe’ you are not alone.”

“Don’t beat yourself up, let nature take its course.” Ever notice how oily resignation is? Society is all about common denomination and denominators. When we leave our farms, no matter how short the term, first thing that hits us (or at least me) is that thuggish downward pull the town (include internet) feels it must apply to get us all ‘on the same page.’

I look up at the heifer and she’s looking back at us. She’s chewing her hay and breathing easy now. If you happened on her like this, with no information about what she had been through these last couple of days, you might think she going along just fine.

What keeps us going? Not thinking so much of the values or dreams, goals or needs. Thinking of the mysterious physical energies, whatever those internal mechanisms are we have inside of us – perhaps what we think of as ‘life force.’ I don’t know. Not actually. But I suspect I do. Instinctively. It is easiest for me to ‘see’ the answer when it doesn’t work. I mean when someone is depressed and doesn’t want to get out of bed, doesn’t want to eat, doesn’t want to do anything. When someone can’t be ‘wound up’ like a toy and set out to move through the day. Then, there – in that specific example, I see what is missing. Do I know its name, that thing which is missing? Is it inertia? Is it motivation? Is it some chemical manifestation of energy? So often the logicians and judges argue ‘you cannot prove a negative.’ But I know that is not always true. I regularly prove to myself that this or that is wrong, is not a fact in evidence, or that it is missing, or misplaced, or simply not true. Even the intangibles such as what it means to not be ready for action. To not be primed, and fueled to go. To be slack. It is a thing which has always been lacking in the crippling objectivity of our judicial system. The ‘law’ is unwilling to grant substance and effect to what is missing, perhaps because the subjectivity such a posture would require is bothersome, tedious, difficult, and… But I need to stop right there. I don’t need or want to wind myself up in this side argument – not now.

And there it was in front of me, “wound up.”

What keeps me going? The wind ups. And each of them requiring release, requiring the unwind. That movement: the brain accepting even seeking things I might choose to grip, choose to climb inside of, choose to remember, choose to propel me. And beneath, under, behind, there is my heartbeat and breath – all of it an underlayment of kinetic movement in service.

And above those two layerings as if a trapezoidal canopy, an upside-down trampoline ceiling, a monkey-bars for roof, is the cordlike blanket of my chosen and accepted responsibilities. These dimensions are each separate but working together. Here, an idea energizes me. – yet still allows that I deal with the canceling effort of daily chores, all while my physical infirmities argue. It’s as though I wander inside a loose ball of lattice leaves. Yes, ‘lattice’ not lettuce. I look on lattice leaves and see my idea of what the human brain might be like, a wrapped airy ball of screen-like patterned leaves through which run the juices that constitute the human mind at work. An intricate and beautiful four dimensional screen ball alive with the sticky residues of observation, dreams, memories, triggers, and information. I see it pulse.

Cognitive hydraulics at work? Separate invisible nerve-lined chambers building pressure until there is spillage or explosion for release? Overlaps of give and take – of build-up and release – of wind-up and spin? A cognitive ram-pump system?

I pull my knit Elderly Instruments cap down over my freezing ears, pull up my collar, hug myself and redirect my attention to the heifer. She is still.

I think of the work horses in anticipatory synchronicity with daily working routines. Feed them, take care that they are comfortable, and you can direct their energies and movements with your welcome whispers.

Why can’t I just whisper and have this cow get up on her feet and walk off? Whisper to her as Kristi does. When we attend together, she asks to go first to the cow alone. so I stand back and I watch.

Just as I have been watching and marveling after this remarkable gem of a human being for all of my adult life. It is apparent that the heifer, within this frightening and painful time, welcomes Kristi as comfort and chance. Kristi drops to a knee in front of the heifer with a handful of hay forward and the cow bends her nose up, over the hay, towards Kristi’s nose and they touch briefly. And I can feel my wife’s prayer and see the heifer’s swelling comfort. And regardless the outcome I know all three of us are well into rescue.

First light is upon us and we decide to return together to the house, we will be able to see her with the binoculars and come back should she be bothered by a predator or fall flat again. We’ve been at this for three days and nights and the thoughts we both have we do not want to express out loud.

I check the weather forecast and another snow storm is coming in five days. If she doesn’t get up soon she will not survive five more days like this. We have a limited window in which to work. I know we need all the moisture we can get this winter but I pray for a little more time before snow and even colder temperatures. Today I am driving an hour to the city to search and plead for meds for the heifer.

Mankind ain’t doin’ well. Yes, there are exceptions, notable ones at that. But it would seem the vast majority are not doing well. And the arena is not financial; its ethical, intellectual, health, arts, information, transportation, agriculture, essential industries, science-in-service, wow the list goes on from here to Barstow.

Argue with that if you want. Winning the argument, if you can, won’t change what’s afoot. Most of higher education ain’t higher, its markedly lower. Health care ain’t, it’s a corporate business that runs on sustaining illness. The ‘law?’ It’s so often wholesale jerk-line impertinence and an embarrassment. ‘Bout the only thing these days that’s what it claims to be is artificial intelligence – definitely artificial and life threatening. Argue. That’s one thing we do, and we do poorly. Perhaps it is due in large part to the computer/digital universe demanding simplification and encouraging obfuscation. Voice, true voice: its one thing that has increased while losing value and identity.

I am, we are, of several voices. There is the awkward, jumbled sound of words coming from my/our mouth. There is the voice like those which appear on these pages, one which I take opportunity to arrange, organize, improve upon if I might. There are familiar ghost voices such as I might employ in chorus on the painting surface. There are the whispers, never jumbled, never awkward, which come so naturally from my wife’s chest, reaching as they do always toward the plants and animals, always in assurance. There are the enjoined voices of the schooled chorus. And the softest most sincere murmurs of bowed heads joined in prayer. And there is that voice on the wind, on the breezes, on the surface of lakes and seas, there is something in the patterning which comes when the slightest movement of air seems to release half-hidden sounds, sounds with distinct patterns. I’m thinking of what happens when we listen, as we hold it to our ear, to the sounds amplified and released by a found conch shell.

Just then the paralyzed heifer struggles to get up and releases a deep and almost resigned sigh. Think man, think. It’s time to be more proactive here…

When I need information or a particular item from others I, unskilled reluctant hermit, learned a very long time ago that it is important to find your voice. (I’m trying to say as gently as possible that I’m an arrogant old coot.) You need to know how to describe what you need. And you need to do it as succinctly as possible.

No veterinarians were going to help us and I wanted to find out if there was such a thing as a highly effective, over-the-counter muscle relaxant. So I went to our preferred feedstore in Redmond and asked the very young lady at the counter, “Is there someone here I can talk to about cattle meds?” And here is where it gets stupid… on my part.

She said, “What are you looking for? Maybe I can help.”

“Ah, well, I think I need to talk to someone with experience, maybe someone older, is your boss here?”

With absolutely no condescension, sarcasm or unpleasantness on her part she said, “My family, including me, have been raising cattle for my whole life. What is it you are looking for?”

Looking around for someone older to help me, I muttered “I’m looking for the strongest over the counter muscle relaxant I can buy.”

Walking down the aisle she said “Let me show you what we have, there’s something we use at home that helps.” She handed me a natural gel ointment made up of Dead Sea Magnesium, Eucalyptus, and Arnica.

I said, “Hmm, anything stronger?”

“Here are two other products. But if you are asking me I think you should rub this nature-based ointment into the heifer’s hips and legs and give it a chance.”

To humor her I said, “Ok, tell you what, I will take all three.”

Back at the ranch I told my wife the story of the feedstore girl. She slowly shook her head and took the ointment squeeze bottle. I knew without clarification that she was shaking her head about me not the girl.

It was dark when we made it back out to the cow and she was laying on her side again, panicky and struggling to right herself. Kristi went to work rubbing the relaxant gel into the top side leg and thigh as I set up the ropes. We rolled her all the way over and she rubbed the stuff into the other side. Done with the application, we gently rolled her up to a sitting position and gave her feed and water.

So much time had passed and there was no apparent improvement in her hips and legs. Emotionally exhausted, Kristi sat directly in front of her and rubbed the heifer’s face as it chewed hay.

“I don’t want her to suffer anymore.” She was crying.

I said, “Let’s give her this night. You have to go to work tomorrow and Eric will be here to lend me a hand.”

Middle of the night, on my turn to go out to the heifer, I could see she was till sitting up but nothing had changed. I fed and watered her and stayed for awhile.

cow down
Joachin Sorolla circa 1900

Should have been sleeping, so darned tired. Woke angry – middle of the night. But with ideas. Feeling like my hands were cramped tight around round handless – paint brushes, brooms, rakes, pencils, shovels, pitchforks, steering wheels, hammers – hands cramped, fingers locked and twisted to snarl, shrunken round joints and knuckles. But not too late, not too long angry – just angry enough to pry loose and slowly carefully, limber up. For there are lives to watch for, hair coats to smooth, leather lines to ply and read and coil, shoulders to caress, ropes to sort, statements to emphasize, breezes to catch with out-facing palm, seed to stir in the hopper, great beast noses to hold for the kiss. And a blameless heifer to put down and bury.

Our little Corgi Addie had woke me. 2 a.m. black dark. She wants out to relieve herself, the old big dog Riley follows out on duty to listen through his nose and his quiet upright self assures no wolves tonight. All this while the artist in me continues to interview his ‘self.’ Only now far less to edit.

Is any short life too short? How long we give ourselves? Now, floating in easy swim while the eddies bring us ideas as answers to those long gone worrisome cries, glad to say now how long we give ourselves is a worthless question. Rather I prefer to mumble what might I give to this moment.

Morning, with knowing glances between us, Kristi went to her town job and I set out to feed the herd and shut-ins. I drove out and checked on the heifer, she was sitting upright but no change. I drove back to start the back-hoe and prepare my pistol. Eric arrived and I pointed up to the heifer and my mouth dropped. “She’s standing up!” I hollered.

When we got to her she was sitting down again, comfortably and a good twenty feet from where she had been for five days! Holy mackerel or tuna or pike or carp!

So I back way off from my plan, call and let my wife know, and keep check on the heifer from binoculars as I go about my work. That day she got up, on all four legs, stood wobbly, took a couple of steps and set herself down easy – three times! Day four.

That night we continued with our vigil and never once did she lay flat unable to right herself. At dawn we found she had covered at least thirty feet. She was eating and drinking and we were staying in attendance. three-hour shifts, 24 hours a day. Day five. It was getting colder and the skies had that late winter, Nebraska-blizzard underbelly to them. We were thrilled to pieces that she was getting up but she wasn’t moving well and the verdict was not in on her long term chances. She had now covered five hundred feet as she moved towards the distant herd, still in our view. Day six.

That morning, as I prepared to haul hay out to the herd, it was snowing lightly and visibility was poor. I couldn’t see where the heifer was. Kristi went to find her up west toward the lagoon, while I went to feed hoping that I could keep the cattle engaged off in the southeast corner. Trailing hay out and looking through the early morning fog-guarded falling snow, I finally saw the heifer, she was walking slow and sure straight towards the cattle and I. By the time I spread out the hay she was with us and eating right along side of all the rest.

cow down
…and nature lowers herself on us with the heavy cloak of snow and fog until all we see is the faint horizon line of the field edge. Hills, rimrock and mountains have disappeared, gone. We are alone with our knowledge and chores and the livestock and wildlife which depend upon us.

Then the storm hit and overnight visibility and mobility were sorely restricted. One thing I could tell, she was with the herd when they bedded down in the shelter of the trees, if she weren’t she would have been a dark red form in the sea of soft snow.

We have Red Angus which means you sometimes have to look for slight variations to tell the cows apart. For four mornings I could always tell ‘our’ heifer because she spread her back legs as she walked to help balance what was certainly still a pained pelvic area. Fifth morning I thought I could tell which one was her but then I wasn’t sure.

Its going on three months later, and whichever one she is is doing mighty fine. We’ll know in the future if she will ever make a mother again. My bet is she will become one of our best and will never fear of pressing noses with Kristi when she has the opportunity.

Here’s a new set of admonitions for these squirmy times:

Do let your imagination get the best of you, often.”
“Every other day question what you know to be true.”
“When you feel the need, do not be afraid to give yourself a good talking to.”
“And ask yourself if you have gone far enough back in your search for what works. Dig man dig.”

cow down

The Lattice Leaf Plant
(Ouvirandra fenestralis)

The lattice leaf plant is native of Madagascar, an island which abounds in unique forms of both vegetable and animal life. The existence of this very remarkable plant was first made known by Du Petit-Thouars nearly a century ago, but it was not until 1855 that living plants of it reached the U.S. These were brought by the late Mr. Ellis who writes as follows concerning this singular plant in its native home: “While staying at Tamatave, I visited a river about eighteen miles distant to see the situation in which the Ouvirandra, lattice plant, grew. I found it in a sluggish river about 20 yards wide and 3 yards or 4 yards deep in the center, with a sandy alluvial bottom, and a considerable deposit of sand and mud around the crowns of the plants, indicating that the deposit of soil brought down by the frequent rains from higher parts of the country formed a sort of top-dressing for the plants.”

The Ouvirandra grows in stiff loam or clay – usually near the margin, and about a foot under the surface. It is said to grow in places which at some season of the year are dry; when this occurs, the leaves all die, but the roots retain their vitality and rapidly push up new growth with the return of the rains. The native plants, according to Mr. Ellis, measure some 2 feet to 3 feet in diameter; therefore cultivators at home seem to have been very successful with it, as we have seen plants of it in England upward of 6 feet in diameter, and bearing hundreds of its curious looking skeleton leaves, each measuring from 5 inches to 6 inches across.

  • Scientific American Supplement number 569, November 27, 1886