Phenology Journal: Strawberry Summer

A wave for the sea,
Flower for fruit and fruit for tree,
A part for the whole,
A kiss for the soul,
Ambrosial lips: you for me:
Strawberry synecdoche.

Bill Felker

Those fond of classical letters might be familiar with the figure of speech called synecdoche (pronounced sin – EK – deh – key) in which a part of something is used to refer to the entire object – or vice versa. In natural history, this verbal device is even more useful than in literature, an isolated flower or scent or taste easily able to conjure whole seasons, call up memories that cross lifetimes.

Photos by Barb Bayliff

Photos by Barb Bayliff

In early June, strawberries are a single tip of summer. But with synecdochic power, their odor and flavor expands time and space, envelops a totality of events in its maturity. With strawberries come the longest days of the year and the completion of the forest canopy. The planting stars, Arcturus and the Corona Borealis, are overhead at night, Hercules not far behind them to the east, followed by the Milky Way, middle summer’s Vega and the Northern Cross. Scorpius follows Libra across the southern sky.

One ripe strawberry implies all of the flowers of early summer: chamomile, clustered snake root, white clover, red clover, yellow sweet clover, yarrow, blue-eyed grass, angelica, prairie false indigo, hemlock, blackberry blossoms, wild roses, swamp iris, meadow goat’s beard, feverfew, blueweed, black medic, daisies, wild mallow, fire pink, water willow, motherwort, white campion, parsnips, honewort, moth mullein, heliopsis, quickweed, lychnis, astilbe, swamp valerian, moneywort, scarlet pimpernel, catalpas, meadow rue, dogbane, sundrops, privet, spirea, poison ivy, tea roses, Miami mist, spiderwort, snow-on-the-mountain, daylilies, stella doro lilies, bindweed, thistles, sweet Williams, and crown 1

Strawberries are a sign that mulberries and pie cherries are getting ripe, black raspberries not too far behind them, a sign that quail are whistling for their mates, that box turtles are laying their eggs, that spiders are weaving their webs across your paths, that the spring field crickets are mating, that fireflies are glowing, that skippers visit the garden, that maple seeds fall, that May apples are an inch across, that cattails and yucca stalks are four feet tall, that timothy is ripe for chewing.

The catalogue of objects and events could go on and on. And not only is each term in the list convertible from part to whole, from microcosm to macrocosm, the psychic possibilities for reminiscence and fantasy contained in each evocative fragment outstrip any kind of organization or reason. Overcome with the chaotic convergence of synecdochically charged spirit and matter, we reel under strawberry summer, feel lost, elated, nostalgic, confused, sad, excited, lonely, in love.

1 Comment

  1. plant doctor

    June 3 entry is magnificent and particularly lush. Another example of Bill Felker’s masterful blend of Nature and poetry. His view of the natural world is dazzling.


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