Changing Into Their Fall Wardrobe

I’m not sure how I managed to get degrees in science when so much of it involves remembering names of things.  I struggle to recall the actual name of something but can describe at length its characteristics or key points.  For three days I could not remember the name of a particular tree, only to realize that I left my tree book at the tattoo shop in Michigan.  Using the internet isn’t as fun, so I decided to wait, to see if the name would come to my mind.

This is what I could remember:  I couldn’t get black locust out of my head even though I knew the tree wasn’t a black locust.  I also kept thinking it has something to do with sugar or candy in the name, something sweet but I obviously knew that it wasn’t a maple.  I also know that they are the first in this region to turn such a bright, magnificent red and I often see them on road edges.  I remembered identifying them in TN/NC and shouting out the pretty scientific name to the person recording the data.  I could almost hear it and see it scribbled onto our data sheets.  The key characteristics of the bark, the shape of the leaves, the size of the tree and the way it grows is all in my head.  But the name simply was not there.

Matt has always told me that conversations with me can sometimes be like playing Jeopardy.  Too often I would describe the simplest and most complex of things, not recalling the name.  It’s embarrassing when I forget friends’ names that I know quite well or when I can’t remember the word for the thing that people sing into- microphone.  Getting through school, I had to come up with ways to help me remember, sometimes involving writing terms over and over on a dry erase board.  I remember writing a full paragraph on a molecular biology exam in an attempt to convince my professor that I knew what I was talking about but couldn’t think of the specific term- even though I knew how many letters it had and how many of the letters were tall like an or k and I knew all of the details.  If you know me really well, you know that I have a stack of 230 self-made flash cards with bird names on one side and an image on the other with their key characteristics.  The same goes for salamanders. Can I self diagnose myself with anomic aphasia?

I fear that not recalling names and nouns may also attribute to my digression.

Returning to this tree… I finally used the internet and there in front of me, like a punch in the face: BLACK GUM (Nyssa sylvatica).  Now I could hear myself in my memory saying “Nyssa” and remembering how much I love that name- not because it sounds similar to my name, Nessa.  Clearly black locust was in my head because of it being a black gum and well thinking of candy or sweet things matches up perfectly with gum.  Brains are both intriguing and frustrating.

If you made it through this annoying post, or if not, enjoy this photo of what I have been driving past a couple of miles of every morning to and from work.  In my mind it’s officially fall when the Nyssas are radiating their magnificent reds.  I write this in hopes of never forgetting the name of this tree now, and perhaps you learned something new as well.

The first to wear their autumn colors- Nyssa sylvatica.


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